Nobel Prize Awarded to Physicists Who First Discovered an Exoplanet



The Nobel Prizes in Science are among the most significant awards one can receive. Three scientists have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work in unraveling what the universe is made of, and for being the first to discover an exoplanet.

Canadian scientist James Peebles and Swiss astronomers Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz are splitting the 9 million Swedish krona ($906,705) Nobel Prize money for their separate discoveries, according to a press release on Tuesday, October 8.

Peebles’ work includes his findings on the evolution of the universe and the clues microwave radiation has left behind. 

“I could think of one or two things to do in cosmology. I just did them and kept going,” Peebles said to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Tuesday. “The prizes and awards, they are charming, much appreciated, but that’s not part of your plans. You should enter science because you are fascinated by it.”

He is also credited with the development of tools that have allowed other scientists to explore further what the universe is made from, which is a combination of ordinary matter, dark matter, and dark energy.

Dark matter and dark energy are two of the biggest mysteries in astronomy. Dark energy is a force theorized to exist to explain the movements of distant galaxies. Because of Peeble’s work, we now know that about 68% of the universe is made of dark energy. 

Mayor and Queloz are credited with discovering the first exoplanet back in 1995. The exoplanet, known as 51 Pegasi b, is 50 light-years away in the Pegasus constellation and is 150 times bigger than Earth, with a surface temperature of 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 degrees Fahrenheit). 

Their discovery of the first exoplanet has allowed astronomers to find and identify not only other exoplanets, but also “Super-Earths,” or planets that have the potential to support life. NASA has confirmed the existence of more than 4,000 planets outside our solar system. The sheer number of that is impressive, but even more so if you take into consideration that, before Mayor and Queloz, we couldn’t find any exoplanets. 

Other Nobel Prizes to be given out this week include the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the Nobel Peace Prize. 

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