Since the late 1800s, the Nobel Prize has honored the world’s finest in sciences, literature, and diplomacy. In 2019, the physics prize awards were all about space, including the discovery of a new planet. If you really want to embark on an interstellar adventure, try one of our space-themed slots, like Starburst.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2019 Physics this October. The lucky winners were chosen for changing how we understand the cosmos. This year the prize was split up, with one half awarded to James Peebles and the other half awarded jointly to Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz. Read on to see what they discovered.
James Peebles and the mystery of matter
James Peebles has been making waves in cosmology since the ‘60s, and his ideas have shaped how we think about the universe. He has theorized about the history of the universe, from the Big Bang until now (that’s a lot of history). After the universe expanded and cooled, light rays started moving through space. The radiation from that event is what Peebles focuses on. He’s used clues in the radiation to piece together the mystery of how we got to where we are today.
James Peebles was really the first scientist to put cosmology on the map. The 1978 Nobel Laureates Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson realized that the weird noise their radio antenna was picking up from space was actually leftover from the birth of the universe. Peebles looked at the temperature of those rays for traces of the universe’s history, including how we ended up with galaxies.
Even though he’s discovered a lot over the years, not even he knows everything about our cosmos. Part of his theory is that known matter and energy—think planets, humans, animals…all of it—only make up five percent of the universe. That means the other ninety-five percent is a total mystery.
Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz’s new planet
Mayor and Queloz’s discovery is related to Peebles’ research, but they looked at the known part of the universe and found the first planet that orbits a sun besides our own. Back in 1995, the two researchers announced that they’d discovered a planet larger than Jupiter orbiting a solar-type star. This planet has the not-so-catchy name 51 Pegasi b, and it’s about 50 light years away from Earth. This planet was the first, but it wasn’t the last. After discovering 51 Pegasi b, Mayor, Queloz, and other scientists went on to find a lot more of these exoplanets. These discoveries changed how scientists think about planetary systems and the possibility of life on other planets.
Queloz has talked a lot about the possibility of life elsewhere. He’s a big believer that there must be life on other planets, but that this life might not look exactly like what we’re used to. Scientists will just need to look for other planets that could support life, which would likely be a solar system kind of life our own. It doesn’t look like 51 Pegasi b would make a great home, though. It’s so close to its sun that its “year” is four Earth-days long, and the temperatures are over 1,000°C.
So while we won’t be taking off to meet our alien neighbors any time soon, the discoveries that Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz have made about the structure of the universe could help lead the way.
What’s next for space science?
As scientists perform new research, we get closer and closer to untangling the mysteries of how we got here and what’s happening in other parts of the universe. While space exploration that happens in the lab might not be as fast paced as what you’d see in a sci-fi movie, we can still hold out hope that we’ll see lots more cool discoveries in cosmology in our lifetimes.
The other 2019 Nobel science prizes were for discoveries a bit closer to home. This year’s chemistry prize went to John B. Goodenough and M. Stanley Whittingham for developing lithium-ion batteries, used in almost all modern electronics. William G. Kaelin, Jr. and Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work on how cells work with available oxygen. Each winner will enjoy a split share of their category’s prize money, which is around a million dollars. For your own prize money, head over to Royal Vegas to get spinning on your favorite space slot.