3 Scientists Share Nobel Prize for Cosmology Finds

Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque), October 7, 2020 | Go to article overview

3 Scientists Share Nobel Prize for Cosmology Finds


The Associated Press

STOCKHOLM - Three scientists won the Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday for establishing the all-too-weird reality of black holes - the straight-out-of-science-fiction cosmic monsters that suck up light and time and will eventually swallow us, too.

Roger Penrose, of Britain, Reinhard Genzel,of Germany, and Andrea Ghez, of the United States explained to the world these dead ends of the cosmos that are still not completely understood but are deeply connected, somehow, to the creation of galaxies.

Penrose, an 89-year-old at the University of Oxford, received half of the prize for proving with mathematics in 1964 that Einstein's general theory of relativity predicted the formation of black holes, even though Einstein himself didn't think they existed.

Genzel, who is at both the Max Planck Institute in Germany and the University of California, Berkeley, and Ghez, of the University of California, Los Angeles, received the other half of the prize for discovering in the 1990s a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

Black holes fascinate people because "the idea of some monster out there sucking everything up is a pretty weird thing," Penrose said an interview with The Associated Press. He said our galaxy and the galaxies near us "will ultimately get swallowed by one utterly huge black hole. This is the fate ... but not for an awful long time, so it's not something to worry too much about."

Black holes are at the center of every galaxy, and smaller ones dot the universe. Just their existence is mind-bending. They are so massive that nothing, not even light, can escape their gravitational pull. They warp and twist light in a way that seems unreal and cause time to slow and stop.

"Black holes, because they are so hard to understand, is what makes them so appealing,'' Ghez, 55, said after becoming the fourth woman to win a Nobel in physics. "I really think of science as a big, giant puzzle."

While the three scientists showed the existence of black holes, it wasn't until last year that people could see one for themselves when another science team captured the first and only optical image of one. It looks like a flaming doughnut from hell but is in a galaxy 53 million light-years from Earth.

Penrose, a mathematical physicist who got the call from the Nobel Committee while in the shower, was surprised at his winning because his work is more theoretical than observational, and that's not usually what wins physics Nobels.

What fascinated Penrose more than the black hole was what was at the other end of it, something called the "singularity." It's something science still can't figure out.

"Singularity, that's a place where the densities and curvatures go to infinity. You expect the physics go crazy," he said from his home. "If you fall into a black hole, then you pretty well inevitably get squashed into this singularity at the end. And that's the end."

Penrose said he was walking to work with a colleague 56 years ago, thinking about "what it would be like to be in this situation where all this material is collapsing around you. …

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