STOCKHOLM — The 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics will be shared by a trio of scientists “for contributions to (the) understanding of the evolution of the universe and Earth’s place in the cosmos,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced on Tuesday.
One-half of the prize — worth 9 million kronor ($908,000) — went to James Peebles, a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, “for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology” over the past two decades that have enriched modern astronomy’s timeline of the universe, from the Big Bang onwards.
Peebles’ breakthroughs centered on the “ancient radiation” that originated during the Big Bang 14 billion years ago and continues to surround us.
“The results showed us a universe in which just 5 per cent of its content is known, the matter which constitutes stars, planets, trees — and us,” the academy said in a statement. “The rest — 95 per cent — is unknown dark matter and dark energy. This is a mystery and a challenge to modern physics.”
The other half of the prize was awarded jointly to Swiss scientists Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz “for the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star.”
The 2019 physics laureates “have painted a picture of the universe, far stranger and more wonderful than we ever could have imagined. Our view of our place in the universe will never be the same again,” said Ulf Danielsson, a member of the award committee.
At the award announcement, he made an analogy saying: “One can compare our universe to a cup of coffee,” and poured a cup. “Most of it is of course coffee — this is the dark energy. Then a fair amount of cream — this is the dark matter, and then just a tiny little bit of sugar, this is ordinary matter, this is what science has been all about for thousands of years.”
“(Through Peebles’ work and) new ways to observe and measure our universe, cosmology evolved into a science of precision,” he said.
“(The Swiss duo, Mayor and Queloz,) focused on what is most important to us, the sugar in the cup,” he added.
Mayor and Queloz announced the first discovery of a planet outside the solar system in October 1995, a success the academy said kicked off “a revolution in astronomy,” with more than 4,000 exoplanets having since been found.
The study of other planets, their variation and the composition of their atmospheres might also help increase the understanding of how climates form in general, academy member and Lund University professor Heiner Linke told dpa.
“And (they might) teach us how to think about the climate in our planet,” Linke said.
“Love of science” should be the driving force for young researchers going into science, not the search for awards, said Canadian-born US researcher Peebles of Princeton University.
“The awards and prizes they are charming, very much appreciated but that’s not part of your plans. You should enter science because you are fascinated by it: that’s what I did,” he said.
Peebles was speaking over the phone on Tuesday to reporters at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, minutes after learning of his Nobel win.
Both Mayor and Queloz are at the University of Geneva. Queloz is also associated with the University of Cambridge, in Britain.
The 2019 Nobel award week opened on Monday with US-born scientists William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza and British scientist Peter Ratcliffe sharing the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work on cells’ use of oxygen.
Recipients of prizes in the fields of chemistry, literature and peace will be announced later this week. The economics award is due next week.
With the exception of economics, the prizes were endowed by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel (1833-96), the inventor of dynamite. The awards are traditionally presented on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death.
In line with tradition, the actual awards are presented on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death.
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