Exoplanets: From Science Fiction to Real Science and Take the Nobel Prize in Physics

The Swiss astronomers Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, winners this Tuesday with the Nobel Prize in Physics with the Canadian James Peebles, achieved with their discoveries that searching for exoplanets was not science fiction, but real science.

And it is that Mayor and Queloz developed new astronomical instruments and techniques that got the observation of planets outside our Solar System: the exoplanets.

In 1995 they discovered the first one, which orbited a solar-type star (51 Pegasi).

Since then, the scientific community has identified almost 4,000: “they turned what looked like science fiction into real science,” Jose Antonio Caballero, of the Spanish Astrobiology Center (CAB), told Efe.

For astrophysicists there are two big questions.

One of them includes three that are answered at the same time: where the universe is coming from, how it will end and what it is made of, underlines this researcher, who adds that the other question is whether we are alone in the universe.

While the latter is more philosophical, scientists “try to go slowly,” added this scientist at the CAB.

To do this, first “we want to detect planets.” 51 Pegasi b, the planet discovered by these two astronomers, was a body of mass similar to that of Jupiter that takes a full turn around its star four days and not 365, and “that was exotic.”

“But every time we detect planets that by size or orbit are more like Earth. The objective is to detect planets like the Earth around a star like the Sun, and at the same distance between our planet and the Sun. For now we have not achieved it but every year that passes we get closer,” he said.

For his part, Guillem Anglada Escudé, from the Spanish Institute of Space Sciences, told Efe that the findings of Mayor and Queloz, a doctoral student of the first at that time, have led to the finding that planets are abundant in the universe, and that, therefore, “Earth-like sites must exist, although we are still looking for them.”

The proof that those of Mayor and Queloz are discoveries that have greatly influenced how it is observed and what is sought in the universe, is that 20 years after discovering 51 Pegasi b, all space agencies have programs and missions exclusively dedicated to exoplanets, a subject that practically did not exist.

“They put it almost in the box of those looking for UFOs,” added this researcher, also an expert on exoplanets.

It is, he argued, an award “deserved. It will be said that there are others who surely deserved it too (…), I agree. But we must not take credit from Mayor and Queloz”, and ultimately it implies “recognition of the whole field and all of us who work on it.”

The two scientists received in 2012 the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Basic Sciences category for their pioneering development of instruments and techniques to observe exoplanets.

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BREAKING NEWS The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics “for contributions to our understanding of the evolution of the universe and Earth’s place in the cosmos” with one half to James Peebles “for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology” and the other half jointly to Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz “for the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star.” This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics rewards new understanding of the universe’s structure and history, and the first discovery of a planet orbiting a solar-type star outside our solar system. James Peebles took on the cosmos, with its billions of galaxies and galaxy clusters. His theoretical framework, which he developed over two decades, starting in the mid-1960s, is the foundation of our modern understanding of the universe’s history, from the Big Bang to the present day. Peebles’ discoveries have led to insights about our cosmic surroundings, in which known matter comprises just five percent of all the matter and energy contained in the universe. The remaining 95 percent is hidden from us. This is a mystery and a challenge to modern physics. Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz have explored our home galaxy, the Milky Way, looking for unknown worlds. In 1995, they made the very first discovery of a planet outside our solar system, an exoplanet, orbiting a solar-type star. Their discovery challenged our ideas about these strange worlds and led to a revolution in astronomy. The more than 4,000 known exoplanets are surprising in their richness of forms, as most of these planetary systems look nothing like our own, with the Sun and its planets. These discoveries have led researchers to develop new theories about the physical processes responsible for the birth of planets. This year’s laureates have transformed our ideas about the cosmos. #NobelPrize #NobelPrizeAnnouncements #NobelPrize2019 #PhysicsPrize #physics #space #research #science #nobellaureate #award #achievement #discovery #ouruniverse #planets #exoplanet #cosmos #universe #galaxy #milkyway #star #stars #cosmology

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