Black holes are “a one-way door out of our universe,” said Event Horizon Telescope director and astronomer Sheperd S. Doeleman of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics about discoveries of the enigmatic cosmic objects that led to three 2020 Noble Prize awards in physics. These “seductive dragon of the universe” described by astronomers as the “gates of hell, the end of spacetime and gateways to eternity” ”after the iconic image of the M87 galaxy supermassive black hole was unveiled in 2019, were first named “black holes” in 1983 by Princeton quantum physicist John Archibald Wheeler.
Theoretical Foundation for Black Holes & the Milky Way’s Supermassive Black hole
The three 2020 Laureates –Britain’s Roger Penrose, a mathematician at Oxford University, German physicist Reinhard Genzel and UCLA’s Andrea Ghez share this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for their discoveries about one of the most exotic phenomena in the universe, the black hole announced the The Swedish Noble Prize committee described their contributions in the text below and in the video.
Roger Penrose’s “Singularity”
“Roger Penrose used ingenious mathematical methods in his proof that black holes are a direct consequence of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Einstein did not himself believe that black holes really exist, these super-heavyweight monsters that capture everything that enters them. Nothing can escape, not even light. In January 1965, ten years after Einstein’s death, Roger Penrose proved that black holes really can form and described them in detail; at their heart, black holes hide a singularity in which all the known laws of nature cease. His groundbreaking article is still regarded as the most important contribution to the general theory of relativity since Einstein.”
Monster at the Heart of Our Galaxy
Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez were awarded the Noble for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the center of our galaxy. “Each lead a group of astronomers that, since the early 1990s, has focused on a region called Sagittarius A* at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. The orbits of the brightest stars closest to the middle of the Milky Way have been mapped with increasing precision. The measurements of these two groups agree, with both finding an extremely heavy, invisible object that pulls on the jumble of stars, causing them to rush around at dizzying speeds. Around four million solar masses are packed together in a region no larger than our solar system.
“Using the world’s largest telescopes, Genzel and Ghez developed methods to see through the huge clouds of interstellar gas and dust to the center of the Milky Way. Stretching the limits of technology, they refined new techniques to compensate for distortions caused by the Earth’s atmosphere, building unique instruments and committing themselves to long-term research. Their pioneering work has given us the most convincing evidence yet of a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
Breaking New Ground
“The discoveries of this year’s Laureates have broken new ground in the study of compact and supermassive objects. But these exotic objects still pose many questions that beg for answers and motivate future research. Not only questions about their inner structure, but also questions about how to test our theory of gravity under the extreme conditions in the immediate vicinity of a black hole”, says David Haviland, chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics.
The Daily Galaxy, Max Goldberg, via Nobel Prize.org and Scientific Background on the Nobel Prize in Physics 2020
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