Nobel Prize in Physics for Black Hole Research

Nobel Prize in Physics for Black Hole Research

Roger Penrose, Richard Genzel and Andrea Ghez are this year's Nobel Laureates in Physics. The Nobel Committee rewarded them for showing that the existence of black holes is due to general relativity and for discovering a supermassive dense object at the center of our galaxy.

The winners will share the prize of 10 million SEK (950 thousand euro). Half of this amount will go to the British Sir Roger Penrose, who has shown that the formation of black holes is due to general relativity.


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The other half will be shared equally between the German Reinhard Genzel and the American Andrea Ghez, who discovered that the orbits of the stars in the center of our galaxy - the Milky Way - are influenced by an invisible and extremely heavy object. The only explanation known today is a supermassive black hole.

Black holes, super-heavy clusters of matter, are considered to be one of the most mysterious phenomena in the universe. These are regions of space-time that - due to very strong gravity - cannot be left by any object, not even light.

Albert Einstein did not believe that black holes really existed. However, Roger Penrose proved with mathematical methods that the existence of black holes is a direct result of Einstein's theory of general relativity.

In January 1965, ten years after Einstein's death, Roger Penrose proved that black holes can really form and described them in detail; at the center of the black hole is a singularity where all known laws of nature are extinguished. His landmark paper is still considered the most important contribution to general relativity since Einstein.

Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez led two groups of astronomers who, since the early 1990s, have focused on studying a region called Sagittarius A * at the center of our galaxy. The orbits of the brightest stars closest to the center of the Milky Way have been studied with increasing precision. The results of the measurements of both groups indicated an extremely heavy, invisible object which, acting on the cluster of stars, makes them move rapidly. About four million solar masses are packed into a region no larger than our solar system.

Using the world's largest telescopes, Genzel and Ghez developed methods to see through huge clouds of interstellar gas and dust the center of the Milky Way. Thanks to new research instruments and techniques, they managed to compensate for distortions caused by the Earth's atmosphere and conduct long-term studies. As a result, they provided the most convincing evidence for the existence of a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

“The discoveries of this year's winners have opened a new field in the study of dense and supermassive objects. But these exotic objects still pose many questions that need to be answered and motivate more research. It is not only about their internal structure, but also about how our theory of gravity could be tested under extreme conditions in the immediate vicinity of a black hole, 'said David Haviland, chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics.

Andrea Ghez is only the fourth woman in history to win an award in physics, along with Maria Skłodowska-Curie (1903), Maria Goeppert Mayer (1963) and Donny Strickland (2018).

Upon hearing of the award, she expressed the hope that she would inspire many women working in science. "I hope to inspire other young women in this field. It is so much fun, and if you have a passion for learning, there is still so much to do," Andrea Ghez said at a press conference on Tuesday, during which the names of this year's Nobel Prize winners were announced.

Ghez was born in 1965 in New York. He is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Another of this year's Nobel laureates - Sir Roger Penrose, professor at the University of Oxford - was born in 1931 in Colchester (Great Britain). He is the author of many popular science books. The researcher visited Poland many times. He is a foreign member of the Polish Academy of Sciences. In 2016, together with the Polish physicist Prof. Andrzej Trautman, he was decorated by President Andrzej Duda. Penrose was awarded the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland for outstanding scientific achievements in the field of physics and for developing Polish-British scientific cooperation.

This year's third Nobel laureate in physics, Reinhard Genzel, was born in 1952 in Bad Homburg vor der Hoehe, Germany. He is the director of the Institute of Extraterrestrial Physics Max Planck in Garching (Germany) and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Author: Paweł Wernicki

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