ann20037 — Announcement

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7 October 2020
2020 Nobel Prize in Physics Awarded to Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is delighted to congratulate the three recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics 2020, who were announced yesterday. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded this year’s Physics Nobel Prize for “discoveries about one of the most exotic phenomena in the Universe, the black hole,” with one half to Roger Penrose “for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity” and the other half jointly to Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez “for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy.”

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2020 recognises achievements which have revealed truths about the most extreme objects in the Universe, black holes, from the proof that they exist in reality to the revelation that there is one at the centre of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. This year’s Laureates have advanced our knowledge of an object which captivates people of all ages and backgrounds with its exotic properties that push current theories of physics to their very limits.

In 1965, Roger Penrose published an article which proved, using revolutionary mathematical methods, that the existence of black holes follows directly from Einstein’s general theory of relativity. He described the objects in detail, including the singularity at their heart, where conditions are so extreme that they defy all known laws of nature. This article, which addressed an object even Einstein considered too bizarre to believe in, is thought to be the most important contribution to the general theory of relativity since Einstein himself developed it.

Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez have produced compelling evidence that such an object exists at the centre of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. Since the 1990s, both astronomers have led teams dedicated to investigating Sagittarius A*, the central region of the Milky Way, and observing the stars in its vicinity with remarkable precision. They have pushed technology to its limits and developed techniques to overcome obstacles to their observations, including the huge clouds of gas and dust obscuring the centre of the galaxy, and the interference of the Earth’s atmosphere. Both groups have obtained convincing evidence that the colossal speeds of stars orbiting in this central region indicate the presence of a supermassive black hole there, containing a mass four million times that of the Sun in an area no larger than our Solar System.

IAU President Ewine Ewine van Dishoeck says "This prize represents the best that astrophysics has to offer: a super-exciting topic, an irrefutable yet apocalyptic prediction, painstaking and increasingly accurate measurements over many decades, new instrumentation mounted on the biggest telescopes, and huge engagement with the general public. We are extremely proud of our Nobel Prize recipients."

More information

The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together almost 12 000 active professional astronomers from more than 100 countries worldwide. Its mission is to promote and safeguard astronomy in all its aspects, including research, communication, education and development, through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world's largest professional body for astronomers.


Lars Lindberg Christensen
IAU Press Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 320 06 761
Cell: +49 173 38 72 621

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