Last week, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three scientists whose work has led the way for black hole research. Sir Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez share the prize, with half of the money going to Penrose and the other half being split between Genzel and Ghez.
Black holes are some of the least understood objects in the universe. Forming at the end of a large star’s life, they are incredibly dense objects whose gargantuan gravity crushes everything around it into a single point, or singularity. Not even light can escape a black hole, making it impossible to detect anything beyond its edges, known as an event horizon.
Sir Roger Penrose, of the University of Oxford, proved that the formation of black holes is predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity, using advanced mathematics. His findings, published in a paper in 1965, are in direct contrast to Einstein’s own paper published in 1939, in which he stated that black holes do not exist. Penrose’s work has long been heralded as some of the most important regarding general relativity since Einstein himself.
Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez hail from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and the University of California respectively. Between them, they discovered the presence of a supermassive object at the very centre of the Milky Way. According to experts, this can only be a black hole, which, though long suspected, can only now be proven to exist through Genzel and Ghez’s work.
The three will share a 10 million Swedish kronor (£870,000) prize in what is the 114th Nobel Prize in Physics.