Science & Technology

2020 Physics Nobel to trio for work on black holes

Roger Penrose showed black holes to be a direct consequence of Theory of Relativity; Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez discovered a massive black hole at the centre of Milky Way

 
By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 06 October 2020

Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez are the recipients of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced October 6, 2020.

One-half of the prize has been awarded to Penrose of the United Kingdom “for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the General Theory of Relativity”, a statement from the academy said.

The other half has been jointly warded to Genzel and Ghez “for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy”, the statement added.

Penrose, a professor at the University of Oxford, used ingenious mathematical methods in his proof that black holes are a direct consequence of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

Black holes usually capture everything that enters them; Light cannot escape once it has entered them. Einstein did not himself believe that black holes really existed.

In January 1965, 10 years after Einstein’s death, Penrose proved that black holes really can form and described them in detail. His ground breaking article is still regarded as the most important contribution to the general theory of relativity since Einstein.

Genzel and Ghez, on the other hand, discovered that an invisible and extremely heavy object governs the orbits of stars at the centre of our galaxy. Each lead a group of astronomers that, since the early 1990s, has focused on a region called Sagittarius A-star at the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way.

The orbits of the brightest stars closest to the middle of the Milky Way have been mapped with increasing precision. The measurements of these two groups agree, with both finding an extremely heavy, invisible object that pulls on the jumble of stars, causing them to rush around at dizzying speeds.

Around four million solar masses are packed together in a region no larger than our solar system. Using the world’s largest telescopes, Genzel and Ghez developed methods to see through the huge clouds of interstellar gas and dust to the centre of the Milky Way.

Their pioneering work has given the most convincing evidence yet of a supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way. Genzel is director at Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Germany and Professor at University of California, Berkeley, USA. Ghez is Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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