Scientists Penrose, Genzel, and Ghez win Nobel Prize for revealing ‘darkest secrets’ in the universe

Even though everything you know about black holes comes from Hollywood movies – remember Matthew McConaughey traveled as collapsed star Gargauntua in Interstellar? – the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics announced on Tuesday should give you reason to celebrate.

The prize of $ 1.1 million was shared by three scientists known to have unraveled some of the most delicate mysteries of black holes, a point in space with a force of gravity so strong that even light cannot s ‘escape.

Briton Roger Penrose – whose popular science books on the physics of the universe inspired a generation of young astronomers – won half the prize for proving that black holes are a direct consequence of the general theory of relativity of Albert Einstein, one of the main building blocks. of modern physics which relates the law of gravity to space-time geometry.

Reinhard Genzel from Germany and Andrea Ghez from the United States won the other half of the prize for discovering that an invisible and extremely heavy object – a supermassive black hole – governs the orbits of stars in the center of our galaxy.

“It was an extreme honor and a great pleasure to hear the news this morning in a somewhat unusual way – I had to get out of my shower to hear it,” said Penrose, paying tribute to his late colleague Stephen Hawking, which he felt deserved. a share of the price.

Ghez – only the fourth woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics – said she hoped it would inspire others to step into the field. Genzel was on a Zoom call with co-workers when the phone rang. “Just like in the movies, a voice said, ‘This is Stockholm,'” a 68-year-old astrophysicist told Reuters. “I cried a little.”

The Indian scientific community has welcomed this news.

Padma Bhushan SM Chitre, mathematician and astrophysicist, Penrose’s Cambridge classmate and long-time friend, said the accolade has come “at last” and has crowned many awards that Penrose has chosen over the course of his close career. 70 years old.

“He’s 89 now and still works so hard,” Chitre said. “His work is on the most obtuse subjects, and like the singularity theorems he developed with Stephen Hawking, he has found unexpected ways to work on mathematical details.

Black holes have fascinated scientists for decades because their understanding is crucial to exploring the origin of matter and galaxies.

In 1915, Einstein predicted that space and time could be distorted by the force of gravity. Still, he didn’t really believe in black holes, and finding a way to prove their existence baffled scientists for another 50 years.

It wasn’t until a seminal 1965 article that Penrose proved that black holes can really form – describing them in detail and claiming that at their center is a singularity where time and space cease to exist. ‘to exist.

Because they suck in light, black holes – often formed when a star is dying where a large amount of matter is squeezed into tiny space – are invisible except with special telescopes.

Genzel and Ghez have looked through these special telescopes for decades, said Varun Bhalerao, assistant professor in the physics department at IIT-Bombay. They studied images of the position of stars in the Milky Way year after year and finally realized that these stars were orbiting something in the center of our galaxy, ”he said.

By space standards, this orbit is small, but still has a mass several million times that of the sun. “The only explanation available is that it is a black hole.”

It is not close enough to suck us in, assured GC Anupama, president of the Astronomical Society of India.

Penrose’s work, on the other hand, is hard to see as boring. His theories have influenced fields as diverse as quantum cosmology, the science of consciousness and artificial intelligence. His interest in geometry, the way non-overlapping flat shapes form finite and infinite symmetries, resulted in mathematical experiments bearing his name: the Penrose tiling. The most famous, perhaps, is its Penrose staircase – with four landings that come together so that the steps go higher but the staircase seems to stay on the same level. “He’s one of our greatest mathematicians,” Chitre said.