Exoplanet Nobel Prize

Nobel at Noon: Physics

October 23, 2019

The Nobel at Noon Series spotlights each Nobel Prize with an informal presentation and discussion. CU Denver faculty experts discuss the meaning and importance of the Nobel Prize while drawing the audience into a discussion about why this award matters to society as a whole.

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2019 was awarded for two groundbreaking discoveries about our universe: its development and Earth’s place in it. Half of the award went 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.”

Clyde Zaidins, PhD, professor emeritus in the physics department at CU Denver, will lead a discussion about the trio’s discoveries for the first of this year’s Nobel at Noon Series.

“This year’s Nobel Laureates in Physics have painted a picture of a universe far stranger and more wonderful than we could have imagined,” said professor Ulf Danielsson, member of the Nobel Committee, when he announced the Nobel Prize winners. “Our view and our place in the universe will never be the same again.”

Predicting the shape of the universe

Sometime in the mid-1960s, James Peebles, PhD, Albert Einstein Professor of Science at Princeton University, realized the importance of cosmic radiation. Over the next two decades, he developed new theoretical tools and used them to uncover the dark components—energy and matter—of our universe. Through his work and new ways to measure and observe our universe, cosmology evolved to a science of precision based on a mathematical foundation. Peebles was able to predict the shape of the universe, and the matter and energy it contains.

Discovering the first exoplanet

The second half of the award went to Michel Mayor, PhD, professor at University of Geneva, Switzerland, and Didier Queloz, PhD, professor at University of Geneva, Switzerland, and University of Cambridge, UK. The pair received the Nobel for their October 1995 discovery of an earthlike exoplanet called 51 Pegasi b.

In 1995, the pair studied this anonymous star 50 light-years away in the Pegasus constellation. Because the planet wasn’t visible from Earth, they used two techniques to reveal it: transit photometry, which provided the size of the exoplanet, and the radial velocity method, which determined its mass. The two techniques made it possible to calculate the exoplanet’s density and as a result, reveal its structure. As result of Mayor and Queloz’s work, researchers have used the techniques to find 4,000 exoplanets, some of which may support life. By studying the exoplanets, future researchers will learn more about the physics behind planet formation and evolvement.

The physics Nobel lecture begins at 12 p.m. on October 31 in the Wartgow Welcome Center (Student Commons Building, Room 1300). Light refreshments will be provided. Feel free to bring your lunch.

2019 Nobel at Noon Schedule

All lectures except the one noted below begin at noon in the Wartgow Welcome Center (Student Common Building, Room 1300)

Oct. 31: Nobel Prize in Physics with Clyde Zaidins, PhD.

Nov. 7: Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Priscilla Burrow, PhD.

Nov. 14: Nobel Prize in Medicine with Jeff Knight, PhD (Note: this presentation starts at 12:30 p.m. in the CU Building, room 2005).

Nov. 21: Nobel Prize in Literature with Cynthia Wong, PhD.

Dec. 5: Nobel Prize in Peace with Sebawit Bishu, PhD.

Dec. 12: Nobel Prize in Economics with Andrea Velasquez, PhD.