Nobel Physics Prize honors dark matter and exoplanets

Canadian-American James Peebles, Swiss scientists Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz won the Nobel Physics Prize for their work in cosmology, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said. (AFP)
Updated 08 October 2019

Nobel Physics Prize honors dark matter and exoplanets

  • The prize consists of a gold medal, a diploma and the sum of $914,000
  • The Economics Prize will wrap up the Nobel prize season on Monday

STOCKHOLM: Canadian-American cosmologist James Peebles and Swiss astronomers Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz on Tuesday won the Nobel Physics Prize for research that increases the understanding of our place in the universe.
Peebles won one-half of the prize “for theoretical discoveries that have contributed to our understanding of how the universe evolved after the Big Bang,” professor Goran Hansson, secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, told a press conference.
Mayor and Queloz shared the other half for the first discovery, in October 1995, of a planet outside our solar system — an exoplanet — orbiting a solar-type star in the Milky Way.
“Their discoveries have forever changed our conceptions of the world,” the jury said.
Developed over two decades since the mid-1960s, Peebles’ theoretical framework is “the basis of our contemporary ideas about the Universe.”
Peebles built upon Albert Einstein’s work on the origins of the Universe by looking back to the millenia immediately after the Big Bang, when light rays started to shoot outwards into space.
Using theoretical tools and calculations, he drew a link between the temperature of the radiation emitted after the Big Bang and the amount of matter it created.
His work showed that the matter known to us — such as stars, planets, and ourselves — only make up five percent, while the other 95 are made up of “unknown dark matter and dark energy.”
“This is a mystery and a challenge to modern physics,” the academy said.
Peebles is Albert Einstein Professor of Science at Princeton University in the United States, while Mayor and Queloz are both professors at the University of Geneva. Queloz also works at the University of Cambridge in Britain.
Using custom-made instruments at their observatory in southern France in October 1995, Mayor and Queloz were able to detect a gaseous ball similar in size to Jupiter, orbiting a star around 50 light years from our own Sun.
Harnessing a phenomenon known as the Doppler effect, which changes the color of light depending on whether an object is approaching or retreating from Earth, the pair proved the planet, known as 51 Pegasus b, was orbiting its star.
The Nobel jury noted that the discovery “started a revolution in astronomy” and since then over 4,000 exoplanets have been found in our home galaxy.
“Strange new worlds are still being discovered,” challenging our preconceived ideas about planetary systems and “forcing scientists to revise their theories of the physical processes behind the origins of planets.”
In a statement, the two astronomers hailed their win as “simply extraordinary,” saying the discovery was “the most exciting of our careers.”
The prize consists of a gold medal, a diploma and the sum of nine million Swedish kronor (about $914,000 or 833,000 euros).
The trio will receive the prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of scientist Alfred Nobel who created the prizes in his last will and testament.
In 2018, the honor went to Arthur Ashkin of the US, Gerard Mourou of France and Donna Strickland of the US for laser inventions used for advanced precision instruments in corrective eye surgery and in industry.
This year’s Nobel prize season kicked off on Monday with the Medicine Prize awarded to Americans William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza, and Britain’s Peter Ratcliffe.
They were honored for research into how human cells sense and adapt to changing oxygen levels, which opens up new strategies to fight such diseases as cancer and anaemia.
The winners of this year’s Chemistry Prize will be announced on Wednesday.
The Literature Prize will follow on Thursday, with two laureates to be crowned after a sexual harassment scandal forced the Swedish Academy to postpone the 2018 award, for the first time in 70 years.
On Friday the action moves to Norway where the Peace Prize is awarded, with bookies predicting a win for Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg on betting sites such as Ladbrokes.
The Economics Prize will wrap up the Nobel prize season on Monday, October 14.


Taj Mahal damaged in deadly India thunderstorm

Updated 31 May 2020

Taj Mahal damaged in deadly India thunderstorm

  • India’s top tourist attraction has been shut since mid-March as part of measures to try and combat the coronavirus pandemic

AGRA, India: A deadly thunderstorm that rolled across parts of northern India damaged sections of the Taj Mahal complex, including the main gate and a railing running below its five lofty domes, officials said Sunday.
One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, India’s top tourist attraction has been shut since mid-March as part of measures to try and combat the coronavirus pandemic.
AFP images showed workers assessing the railing of the main mausoleum, after the storm on Friday night battered Agra city in northern Uttar Pradesh state.
“One sandstone railing which was a part of the original structure has been damaged,” Superintending Archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India, Vasant Kumar Swarnkar, said.
“One marble railing which was a later addition, a false ceiling in the tourist holding area and the base stone of the main gate has also been damaged.”
He added there was no damage to the main structure of the monument to love — built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth in 1631.
Local media reports said thunderstorms and lightning on Friday killed at least 13 people in two Uttar Pradesh districts.
Fatal lightning strikes are relatively common during the June-October monsoon season.
Last year, at least 150 people were killed by lightning in August and September in Madhya Pradesh state in central India.