SWEDEN. Three physicists were awarded the Nobel Prize today for their discovery of black holes. Roger Penrose proved that they could theoretically exist, while Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez were the first to discover a black hole in the Milky Way.
With a flair for drama, the Nobel Committee’s press release describes black holes as ‘the Milky Way’s darkest secret’. At the edge of a black hole, time appears to stand still. But things get even stranger once you venture inside, as the laws of physics are turned upside down.
In 1965, the British physicist Roger Penrose used Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity to prove the theoretical possibility of the existence of black holes, proposing that they should be a normal phenomenon. His groundbreaking work paved the way for the study of black holes.
Einstein himself had doubted whether these ‘holes’ could actually exist: he – and others – theorised that perhaps they were just mathematical curiosities instead of actual physical entities. But Penrose removed all of those doubts, earning him half of this year’s prize.
But who would be the first to find one of these holes? The German astrophysicist Reinhard Genzel and the American astronomer Andrea Ghez ended up sharing the credit for this discovery, as their research groups refined a large range of techniques that allowed scientists to use enormous telescopes to peer deeper into the centre of the universe than ever before.
The results of their work did not come overnight: one of their discoveries was a star that took sixteen years to orbit an invisible object. The mass of this object had to be so vast that not even light could escape its pull – the first black hole had been found. By comparison, to match the density of this black hole you’d have to compress the earth to the size of a pea.
Genzel and Ghez share the other half of the prize, which amounts to 9 million Swedish krona, or about 860,000 euros. Ghez is only the fourth woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics.
To date, there have been nine Dutch recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics. The most recent Dutch laureate was Andre Geim, a Russian-born Dutch-British physicist. Geim was awarded the prize in 2010 for his work on the development of graphene, an ultra-strong single layer of carbon atoms.
HOP, Bas Belleman
All Dutch recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics:
Andre Geim (2010)
Gerard ‘t Hooft and Martinus Veltman (1999)
Simon van der Meer (1984)
Frits Zernike (1953)
Heike Kamerlingh Onnes (1913)
Johannes Diderik van der Waals (1910)
Hendrik Antoon Lorentz and Pieter Zeeman (1902)