The Nobel Prize in Physics for 2019 has been jointly awarded to James Peebles, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz “for contributions to our understanding of the evolution of the universe and Earth’s place in the cosmos”, the Nobel committee announced this Tuesday, October 7th. Peebles got the prize for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology and Mayor and Queloz for their discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star. Vítor Cardoso and José Sande Lemos, both Técnico professors who work in Cosmology and Astrophysics, consider that these discoveries represent “an extraordinary breakthrough”.
“The work of James Peebles is a groundbreaking theoretical work with new predictions for physics that was not – or only slightly known when he worked on the subject”, says Vítor Cardoso, Técnico professor and CENTRA researcher. “On the other hand, the work of Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz is technologically impressive, with profound implications for us, as a species”, he adds.
Peebles work is fundamental to the modern understanding of the universe’s history, based on “what we call today theoretical and observational cosmology”, points out professor Vítor Cardoso. Mayor and Queloz research led to a revolution in astronomy. Although professor Vítor Cardoso doesn’t know their work very well, he has no doubt that it “has a different impact and will make us think about our place in the cosmos”.
José Sande Lemos, Técnico professor and president of CENTRA, met James Peebles in 1986 when he was doing his PhD at the University of Cambridge. “We talked about cosmology and the expansion of the universe and its possible solutions. Afterwards, these solutions would show black hole formation from the gravitational collapse”, recalls professor José Sande Lemos.
According to the president of CENTRA, this is “a very well deserved” Nobel prize because it recognises “the outstanding work developed by Peebles in the field of cosmology since the beginning of the 1960s”.
In 2016, the Noble Prize in Physics was awarded to the theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter that revealed the secrets of exotic matter, “an excellent work worthy of the Nobel prize”, says professor José Sande Lemos. The Nobel prize in physics 2017 was awarded for observation of gravitational waves in 2015.
According to professor Vitor Cardoso, this continuous recognition shows the increasing impact of this engineering field. “It would be no exaggeration to say that it is increasingly difficult to find new energy sources on Earth. The clear option is the universe, which seems to have practically inexhaustible sources of energy”, he says. “The past few decades show that and it has become clear that the future of fundamental physics is the outer space”, he adds.
“My work focuses on black holes as the main engines for discovery: laboratories where we can test General Relativity and dark matter detectors”, explains professor Vitor Cardoso. “Somehow, my working group also aims to understand dark matter and its effects, but on a smaller scale than Peebles. The first direct observation of gravitational waves was made 3 years ago, now the time has come to understand black holes”, says the CENTRA researcher. According to professor Vítor Cardoso, the work of Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, “has little in common” except, of course, that they both focus on “exciting and important astrophysics”.