"The discoveries have changed our worldview"
This year's Nobel Prize in Physics goes to Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez for their discoveries about black holes. “The prize is about our basic understanding of how the universe works," says Mattias Marklund, Professor of Physics at the University of Gothenburg.
Scientists have been thinking about black holes, that is, astronomical objects with such strong gravity that even light cannot escape, ever since the age of Newton. When Einstein developed his general theory of relativity in 1915, it was discovered that black holes were a natural consequence of this theory. For a long time it was assumed that nature probably had ways to avoid the formation of black holes.
Roger Penrose, who receives one half of the prize, has with the help of mathematical models shown that the general theory of relativity leads to the formation of black holes.
"In the 1960s, Penrose managed to demonstrate that, if the general theory of relativity is correct, black holes were inevitable. Objects that fit the description of a black hole have since been observed on several occasions, a factor which relates to the other half of the prize, and which is also believed to be a central driver for many galaxies," says Mattias Marklund.
Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez, who share the other half of the prize, discovered that an invisible and extremely heavy factor controls the stellar cycle closest to the center of our own galaxy - the Milky Way. A supermassive black hole is currently our only known explanation.
"Even better understanding"
According to Mattias Marklund, the laureates' discoveries have allowed black holes to go from being exotic theoretical constructs, to being a very real part of modern astronomy and of our understanding of the dynamics of the universe.
"The discoveries rewarded this year have changed our worldview, that is, our view of how our universe is constituted, and have led us to have an even better understanding of how galaxies, for example, evolve over time”.
Maria Sundin, astrophysicist at the University of Gothenburg, is also pleased with today's announcement.
"When I'm out and about, I usually get asked two questions. One is if there is life in the universe, the other one how black holes work. So the interest is huge around black holes and it's really lovely that this year's Nobel Prize is all about this. Now I will be able to answer the questions about black holes better, but the ones about life in the universe persists," she says.
Text: Thomas Melin and Carina Eliasson