3 win No­bel Prize in Physics for work to un­der­stand cos­mos

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By David Key­ton

STOCK­HOLM — A Cana­dian Amer­i­can cos­mol­o­gist and two Swiss sci­en­tists won this year’s No­bel Prize in Physics on Tues­day for ex­plor­ing the evo­lu­tion of the uni­verse and dis­cov­er­ing a new kind of planet, with im­pli­ca­tions for that nag­ging ques­tion: Does life ex­ist only on Earth?

Cana­dian-born James Pee­bles, 84, an emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor at Prince­ton Univer­sity, won for his the­o­ret­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies in cos­mol­ogy. Swiss stargaz­ers Michel Mayor, 77, and Di­dier Queloz, 53, both of the Univer­sity of Geneva, were hon­ored for find­ing an ex­o­planet — a planet out­side our so­lar sys­tem — that or­bits a sun­like star, the No­bel com­mit­tee said.

“This year’s No­bel lau­re­ates in physics have painted a pic­ture of the uni­verse far stranger and more won­der­ful than we ever could have imag­ined,” said Ulf Daniels­son of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which se­lected the lau­re­ates. “Our view of our place in the uni­verse will never be the same again.”

Pee­bles, hailed as one of the most in­flu­en­tial cos­mol­o­gists of his time who re­al­ized the im­por­tance of the cos­mic ra­di­a­tion back­ground born of the Big Bang, will col­lect one half of the $918,000 cash award. Mayor, who is an as­tro­physi­cist, and Queloz, an as­tronomer who is also at the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge in Bri­tain, will share the other half.

The No­bel com­mit­tee said Pee­bles’ the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work about the cos­mos — and its bil­lions of gal­ax­ies and gal­axy clus­ters — amounted to “the foun­da­tion of our mod­ern un­der­stand­ing of the uni­verse’s his­tory, from the Big Bang to the present day.”

His work, which be­gan in the mid-1960s, set the stage for a “trans­for­ma­tion” of cos­mol­ogy over the last half-cen­tury, us­ing the­o­ret­i­cal tools and cal­cu­la­tions that helped in­ter­pret traces from the in­fancy of the uni­verse, the com­mit­tee said.

A clearly de­lighted Pee­bles re­called how he an­swered a 5:30 a.m. phone call from Stock­holm think­ing that “it’s ei­ther some­thing very won­der­ful or it’s some­thing hor­ri­ble.”

“I have a peace­ful life,” he said, laugh­ing. “It’s some­how now to­tally messed up!”

He added that he looked for­ward to trav­el­ing to the Swedish capital with his fam­ily to ac­cept the prize.

Mayor and Queloz were cred­ited with hav­ing “started a rev­o­lu­tion in astron­omy” no­tably with the dis­cov­ery of ex­o­planet 51 Pe­gasi B, a gaseous ball com­pa­ra­ble with Jupiter, in 1995 — a time when, as Mayor re­called — that “no one knew whether ex­o­plan­ets ex­isted or not.”

“Pres­ti­gious as­tronomers had been search­ing for them for years, in vain!” Mayor quipped.

The com­mit­tee said more than 4,000 ex­o­plan­ets have since been found in the Milky Way since then.

“Mayor and Queloz pi­o­neered the path that will al­low our gen­er­a­tion to ad­dress one of the most ex­cit­ing ques­tions in sci­ence: Are we alone?” wrote Avi Loeb, chair­man of the Har­vard Univer­sity astron­omy de­part­ment, in an email.

Queloz was meet­ing with other aca­demics in­ter­ested in find­ing new plan­ets when the press of­fice at Cam­bridge Univer­sity in­ter­rupted to tell him the big news: He had won the No­bel. He thought it was joke at first.

“I could barely breathe,” Queloz told the AP. ”It’s enor­mous. It’s be­yond usual emo­tions. My hand was shak­ing for a long time. I’m try­ing to digest it.”

Mayor said he found out he was one of the win­ners “by chance” when he logged onto his com­puter after leav­ing the ho­tel where he had been stay­ing in San Se­bas­tian, in north­ern Spain.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.