Stockholm: Roger Penrose of Britain, Reinhard Genzel of Germany and Andrea Ghez of the US won the Nobel Physics Prize on Tuesday for their work on black hole formation and the discovery of a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.
This is the 114th Nobel Prize awarded in Physics with Ghez being the fourth woman to scoop the physics prize.
Penrose, 89, was honoured for showing “that the general theory of relativity leads to the formation of black holes” with half the share of prize. Genzel, 68, and Ghez, 55, were jointly awarded for discovering “that an invisible and extremely heavy object governs the orbits of stars at the centre of our galaxy”, the jury said.
Award is presented by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and is worth 10m Swedish kronor (£870,000).
Black holes are known to be such points in space which are formed when an enormous mass is squashed into a small space, as occurs when massive stars collapse. The gravity field released by this phenomenon is so strong that even light cannot pass through it thus, creating an invisible and timeless region surrounding it that is known as the event horizon.
Existence of Black holes was a dilemma for scientists for years but Penrose, a professor at the University of Oxford, used mathematical modelling to prove back in 1965 that black holes can form.
His groundbreaking paper, published in 1965, would have been a surprise to Einstein who himself had previously declared in a paper in 1939 that black holes “do not exist in physical reality”.
Famous Physicist Stephen Hawking, who passed away in 2018, also made significant contributions to the discovery of Black holes along with Penrose. Jurors lament his loss before he could receive his deserved recognition.
“It’s a shame that Penrose and Hawking didn’t get the Nobel before now,” said Luc Blanchet, from the Paris Institute of Astrophysics and director of the National Centre for Scientific Research.
Genzel, an astrophysicist and director of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and Ghez, professor at the University of California, got recognition for their research in early 1990s on the Black hole, Sagittarius A*, located in the centre of Milky Way whose mass is believed to be as great as 4 million suns and width as long as 15 million miles.
The two in particular devised methods to see through the huge clouds of interstellar gas and dust to the center of the Milky Way, finding new techniques to overcome the image distortion caused by Earth’s atmosphere. The first photo of Black hole was unveiled in April 2019. Ulf Danielsson, professor of theoretical physics at Uppsala University in Sweden, said: “This year’s laureates have uncovered secrets in the darkest corner of our universe. But this is not just an old adventure coming to its triumphant conclusion, it is a new one beginning. As we probe ever closer to the horizons of the black holes, nature might have new surprises in store.”
The three of them expressed utter delight upon receiving the most prestigious award.
Ghez remarked, “I hope I can inspire other young women into the field. It is a field that has so many pleasures, and if you are passionate about the science there is so much that can be done.”
Penrose mentioned that it was a “huge honour” and that he might be distracted from work for a few days now.