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Nobel Prize Honors Exoplanets, Big Bang – Sky & Telescope

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Nobel Prize

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics to James Peebles (Princeton) and to Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz (each on the College of Geneva, Switzerland). The prize, which shall be cut up in half, honors discoveries which have provided new views on our place within the universe.


Peebles is being honored for theoretical discoveries in cosmology. Anybody who has had an introductory course in astronomy doubtless is aware of his title. For the reason that mid-1960s, he has made essential contributions to our understanding of the Huge Bang and darkish matter.

Planck cosmic microwave background

The oldest mild in our universe, the cosmic microwave background, suffuses the cosmos. The work of James Peebles was key to analyzing tiny fluctuations on this background, proven right here in spotty orange and blue.
ESA and the Planck Collaboration

When Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias on the Bell Phone Laboratories in New Jersey found a persistent background noise of their radio experiments — one which they initially thought could be on account of pigeon droppings — Peebles had already considered and written up a paper on the thought of background radiation. This radiation was trapped amongst the primordial soup of ions within the sizzling, early universe, however 370,000 years after the Huge Bang, the soup cooled sufficient to mix into impartial atoms, setting the photons free. This radiation, often called the cosmic microwave background (CMB), now fills the universe at microwave wavelengths.

However Peebles and his colleagues hadn’t printed but. The 2 groups ended up publishing the invention and the theoretical underpinnings in two impartial articles within the Astrophysical Journal Letters. In 1978, Wilson and Penzias obtained the Nobel Prize in Physics for his or her discovery of the radiation. Now, it’s Peebles’s flip.

This recognition comes for extra than simply the existence of the CMB. Peebles labored for many years to grasp this background radiation and the data encoded in it concerning the universe’s earliest years. In the end, his research supplied the theoretical framework for astronomers who, in observations of galaxies and galaxy clusters, had been discovering that “regular” (aka, baryonic) matter can solely be the tip of the universe’s iceberg. Because of his contributions, the concepts of darkish matter and darkish vitality, unknown parts that make up 95% of the universe, have strong theoretical footing.


Exoplanet first

This artist’s view reveals the recent Jupiter exoplanet 51 Pegasi b, about 50 light-years from Earth within the constellation Pegasus.
NASA / JPL-Caltech

Mayor and Queloz will obtain the opposite half of the Nobel Prize for his or her discovery of the primary exoplanet orbiting a Solar-like star, a sizzling Jupiter often called 51 Pegasi b.

This fuel large zips round its star each 4 days, so it reaches temperatures of 1000ºC (1800ºF) — not precisely what astronomers had been anticipating to seek out! The alien world is about half the mass of Jupiter, however half once more as large. It may very well be that proximity to the star’s searing warmth is puffing up the planet’s environment.

The invention, made with the custom-built Elodie spectrograph on a 2-meter telescope on the Haute-Provence Observatory, France, in 1995, got here after a long time of now-discredited claims of exoplanet detections in varied methods. Observations of 51 Pegasi b served as a proof of idea that initiated an exponential firestorm of observing campaigns, devices, and satellites, which have now collectively amassed greater than four,000 confirmed exoplanets.

Observe that the award qualifies the phrases “first exoplanet” with “round a Solar-like star.” The primary two exoplanets found, by Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail in 1992, orbit a pulsar. It stays unclear whether or not these Earth-mass planets shaped after the host star went supernova, or whether or not they’re the stripped-down stays of fuel giants. Mayor and Queloz’s discovery of 51 Pegasi b additionally stands on the shoulders of different giants — Jason Wright has posted a thread on Twitter explaining tentative detections and alerts collected earlier than the period of 51 Pegasi b.

Congratulations to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz for the well-deserved honor!

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