Cosmic theorist and planet-hunters share physics prize as Nobels reward otherworldly discoveries

phys.org | 10/8/2019 | Staff
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This year's Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to three researchers for their contributions to two unique fields.

Half of the 9 million Swedish krona (A$1.34 million) award goes to James Peebles, a Canadian cosmologist at Princeton University, "for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology."

Half - Astronomers - Michel - Mayor - University

The other half is split between two Swiss astronomers, Michel Mayor of the University of Geneva, and Didier Queloz from the University of Geneva and University of Cambridge, "for the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star."

Göran Hansson, Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said that together, these contributions provide us with an "understanding of the evolution of the universe and Earth's place in the cosmos."

Peebles - Calculations - Cosmologists - Microwave - Background

Peebles' theoretical calculations have allowed cosmologists to interpret the cosmic microwave background (CMB), leftover radiation from the aftermath of the universe's birth 13.8 billion years ago. Discovered by accident more than 50 years ago, the CMB represents a goldmine for cosmologists, containing secrets to the universe's origins, age, and composition.

While Peebles' theoretical framework has provided the key to unlocking the secrets of the CMB, it has also left cosmologists with an even bigger question—one that revolves around the composition of the universe.

Matter—the - Stuff - Stars - Planets - Everything

Currently, regular matter—the stuff that makes up the stars, the planets, and everything on Earth—is believed to comprise only 5% of the total mass and energy in the universe. The remainder includes a mixture of dark matter (25%), a mysterious form of matter that is invisible to traditional observational techniques, and dark energy (70%), which is thought to be the reason for the universe's expansion.

While these "dark" components remain mostly elusive, the pioneering work of US astronomer Vera Rubin proved almost beyond doubt that dark matter exists. Rubin's ideas revolutionised cosmology, but sadly she never won a Nobel Prize and passed away in 2016.

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