One American and two Swiss scientists were jointly awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday morning for their discoveries about the nature of the universe and the first planet seen orbiting a sun-like star outside our solar system.
James Peebles of Princeton University was awarded the prize for cosmological discoveries, and Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz of Switzerland’s University of Geneva were honored for the first discovery of a planet orbiting a nearby sun-like star, according to the announcement from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm.
“Their discoveries have forever changed our conceptions of the world,” the Nobel Committee tweeted.
Peebles was awarded half of the prize for explaining how to understand cosmic microwave radiation, a leftover heat signature from the first 400,000 years of the universe after its birth 14 billion years ago. “Using his theoretical tools and calculations, James Peebles was able to interpret these traces from the infancy of the universe and discover new physical processes,” the academy noted in its prize announcement.
His work revealed that everyday matter — the stuff of stars, planets, and people — is only about 5% of the material of the cosmos. The rest is dark matter, an unobservable kind of matter that shapes galaxies and dark energy, a force that is leading to the accelerating expansion of the universe.
“These things just happen,” Peebles said of his discoveries, in a news conference arranged by the academy. He called winning the Nobel “charming,” but added, “students should study a subject for love of the science,” rather than for prizes.
Mayor and Queloz will split the other half of the prize for the 1995 discovery of 51 Peg b, a planet orbiting a sun-like star about 50 light years away (one light year is about 5.9 trillion miles) in the constellation, Pegasus. The discovery showed that solar systems come in unexpected forms, with the planet, a “hot Jupiter” much bigger than Earth roasting on a close-in orbit of its star.
The Swedish academy yearly awards the physics prize to up to three people judged to have made “the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics,” as dictated by the1895 will of industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite.
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