Professor Didier Queloz wins 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovery of an exoplanet

Queloz jointly wins the 2019 Physics Nobel for his work on the first confirmation of an exoplanet – a planet that orbits a star other than our Sun.

Strange new worlds are still being discovered, with an incredible wealth of sizes, forms and orbits.

Nobel Assembly

Professor Didier Queloz from the University of Cambridge has been jointly awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics along with Professor James Peebles and Professor Michel Mayor for their pioneering advances in physical cosmology, and the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star.

Queloz is Professor of Physics at the University’s Cavendish Laboratory. He becomes the 109th Nobel Affiliate of Cambridge to be awarded a Nobel Prize. In 1995, along with Michel Mayor, Queloz made the first discovery of a planet outside our solar system, an exoplanet, orbiting the star 51 Pegasi.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the 2019 Prize this morning. The Nobel Assembly said: “The discovery by 2019 Nobel Prize laureates Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz started a revolution in astronomy and over 4,000 exoplanets have since been found in the Milky Way. Strange new worlds are still being discovered, with an incredible wealth of sizes, forms and orbits.”

“This year’s Laureates have transformed our ideas about the cosmos. While James Peebles’ theoretical discoveries contributed to our understanding of how the universe evolved after the Big Bang, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz explored our cosmic neighbourhoods on the hunt for unknown planets. Their discoveries have forever changed our conceptions of the world.”

Today, many regard the discovery of 51 Pegasi b by Queloz and Mayor at the University of Geneva in 1995, as a moment in astronomy that forever changed the way we understand the universe and our place within it.

It was the first confirmation of an exoplanet – a planet that orbits a star other than our Sun. Until then, although astronomers had speculated as to the existence of these distant worlds, no planet other than those in our own solar system had ever been found.

This seminal discovery has spawned a revolution in astronomy both in terms of new instrumentation and understanding of planet formation and evolution. Since then Professor Queloz has been involved in a successful series of developments of precise spectrographs, considerable improving the precision of the Doppler technique.

Of the 1,900 or so confirmed exoplanets that have now been found – a tenth of these by Queloz himself – many are different to anything we ever imagined, challenging existing theories of planet formation.

In 2007, in the emerging area of planetary transit detection, he established a successful international collaboration with the WASP team from UK, providing the spectroscopic confirmation and precise photometry follow-up to confirm and characterize planetary candidates. He also took an active part in the Corot mission, pioneering planet transit detection from space. He conducted a part of the work that led to the first transit detection of a rocky planet (Corot-7b).

In 2012 he received with Michel Mayor the 2011 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award of Basic Sciences for developing new astronomical instruments and experimental techniques that led to the first observation of planets outside the Solar System.

In 2013 he become a professor at the University of Cambridge where he is leading a comprehensive research program with the goal of making further progress in our understanding of their formation, structure, and habitability of exoplanets in the Universe as well as to promote and share the excitement of this work with the public.

More to follow…

More details on previous Cambridge winners can be found here: https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/research-at-cambridge/nobel-prize

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