Tuesday, 25 February, 2020

Canadian born James Peebles wins Nobel prize in physics this year

Jonathan Nackstrand  AFP via Getty Images Jonathan Nackstrand AFP via Getty Images
Deanna Wagner | 09 October, 2019, 07:27

A trio of scientists will share the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics "for contributions to our understanding of the evolution of the universe and Earth's place in the cosmos", the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced on Tuesday. This is the committee's way of distilling a decades-long career highlighted by momentous observations and discoveries, all to inform Peebles' "theoretical framework" of cosmology that's become an essential conceptual model for today's astrophysicists.

While these "dark" components remain mostly elusive, the pioneering work of United States astronomer Vera Rubin proved nearly beyond doubt that dark matter exists.

A Cambridge University planet hunter said on Tuesday that mankind could detect alien life within the next 30 years, after winning the Nobel prize.

Mayor and Queloz work at University of Geneva, while Peebles is at Princeton University. His research led to the revelation that just 5% of the universe is normal matter and energy, while about 95% is invisible stuff that physicists call dark matter and dark energy. They noticed a subtle change in the color of the parent star, as it wobbled due to the gravitational pull of the orbiting planet. Including the idea that other systems throughout the galaxy could harbor the necessary conditions for life ever.

Why these exceptions? Well, the statutes of the Nobel Foundation say: "If none of the works under consideration is found to be of the importance indicated in the first paragraph, the prize money shall be reserved until the following year".

The nominees in all categories - whose names are never announced and can not be revealed until 50 years have passed - are picked by members of academies, university professors, scientists, previous Nobel Laureates, and members of parliamentary assemblies. "In addition to laying a great deal of the theoretical groundwork for modern cosmology, Jim pioneered numerous methods that have made cosmology a predictive science and one that allows us to test our theories with observational data". Whether they may be at all like life on our Earth, would be very hard for me to know.

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Financial markets were closed for the holiday, although a lot of stores and restaurants were available. Train services would also end at 8:00pm, more than four hours earlier than normal.

By looking at these "Doppler shifts" using an observational method known as radial velocity, astronomers cannot only detect the presence of a planet, but also estimate its mass and orbital period (the length of the planet's "year").

Asked at the Nobel news conference what Peebles would tell young scientists, he said "you should enter it for the love of science".

"The next steps, inspired by the unbelievable discovery 24 years ago of the first exoplanet, is to collect enough light from these small planets in the habitable zone to figure out if there are signs of life in their atmosphere".

William G Kaelin Jr, Peter J Ratcliffe and Gregg L Semenza received the award jointly from the Nobel Committee.

The 2019 Nobel Prize in literature will be announced on Thursday, Oct. 10. Each field's award is administered by a different organisation - the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, awards the medicine prize.

The three winners will equally split the prize of 9 million Swedish kronor ($908,640 US).