Massive news, literally: Three super-boffins awarded Nobel Prize in physics for their black-hole breakthroughs

Congratulations to Sir Roger Penrose, Andrea Gehz, Reinhard Genzel


The Nobel Prize in physics has been awarded to three scientists for their work probing some of the most massive and strangest objects in the universe – black holes.

Professor Sir Roger Penrose, a British mathematician and popular science author, was given half the share of the ten million Swedish kronor (£866,000 or $1.12m) prize “for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity.”

The 89-year-old super-boffin is most well-known for working with Professor Stephen Hawking to prove that black holes exist and were the product of extreme gravitational effects described by Einstein’s theories. Although Einstein described how gravity is the curvature of spacetime, he failed to see how its effects created such bizarre voids when stars collapsed, and remained unconvinced about black holes.

Einstein died ten years before he could read Sir Roger's seminal paper, “Gravitational Collapse and Space-Time Singularities,” published in 1965. Sir Roger used topology equations to prove that light can’t escape and time stands still at the center of black holes, within which a singularity would form.

“It is a huge honour to receive this prize,” Sir Roger said. “In 1964 the existence of black boles was not properly appreciated. Since then they have become of increased importance in our understanding of the universe and I believe this could increase in unexpected ways in the future.”

Numerical simulation of two black holes that inspiral and merge, emitting gravitational waves. The simulated gravitational wave signal is consistent with the observation made by the LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave detectors on 21 May 2019 (GW190521)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... a pair of black holes coalesced resulting in largest gravitational wave we've seen

READ MORE

His mathematical proofs paved the way for the second half of the prize split between physics professors Andrea Gehz, 55, at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Reinhard Genzel, 68, at the University of California, Berkeley. The pair were singled out “for [their] discovery of a supermassive compact object at the center of our galaxy.”

Genzel led a group of scientists who detected Sagittarius A*, a supermassive black hole in the center of our Milky Way. They tracked the motion of stars at the center of the galaxy to show they were all orbiting a giant invisible object, and developed a “remarkable technique in which he can measure very accurately and determine quite precisely the mass and behavior of stars circulating around the galactic center,” Charles Townes, a fellow Nobel laureate, who helped set up the observational program into the center of the Milky Way at UC Berkeley in 1967, previously said. Townes died in 2015.

Last but not least, Gehz used the W.M. Keck Telescope to study the center of the galaxy in infrared. She calculated that Sagittarius A* is a whopping 4.1 million solar masses. Last year, she was also part of a team who spotted a sudden surge of activity from the black hole chowing down on its largest meal of gas and dust.

“I’m thrilled and incredibly honored to receive a Nobel Prize in physics,” she said.

“We have cutting-edge tools and a world-class research team, and that combination makes discovery tremendous fun. Our understanding of how the universe works is still so incomplete. The Nobel Prize is fabulous, but we still have a lot to learn." ®


Other stories you might like

  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading
  • Utility biz Delta-Montrose Electric Association loses billing capability and two decades of records after cyber attack

    All together now - R, A, N, S, O...

    A US utility company based in Colorado was hit by a ransomware attack in November that wiped out two decades' worth of records and knocked out billing systems that won't be restored until next week at the earliest.

    The attack was detailed by the Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) in a post on its website explaining that current customers won't be penalised for being unable to pay their bills because of the incident.

    "We are a victim of a malicious cyber security attack. In the middle of an investigation, that is as far as I’m willing to go," DMEA chief exec Alyssa Clemsen Roberts told a public board meeting, as reported by a local paper.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021