The 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded for furthering and adding to our knowledge of the biggest mystery of this universe – black holes.
Three scientists, Sir Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez have jointly won the 2020 Nobel prize in physics for their work on black hole formation and the discovery of a supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy.
The award, announced on Tuesday, is presented by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and is worth 10m Swedish kronor (£870,000), which will be shared among the winners, with half going to Penrose and the other half shared between Genzel and Ghez.
Mysterious, exciting and inescapable, black holes form when an enormous mass is squashed into a small space, as occurs when massive stars collapse. The result is an object where gravity is so strong that a one-way street is formed; not even light can escape, meaning black holes are invisible, while to distant observers time appears to stand still in the region surrounding it that is known as the event horizon.
Prof Penrose, a British mathematical physicist based at the University of Oxford, won his share of the prize for using innovative mathematical techniques to prove that the formation of black holes is an inevitable consequence of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and hence can truly exist.
The announcement of the winners was delayed, the committee said, due to difficulties in contacting the winners.
Penrose, 89, told the Guardian it was a “huge honour” to win the prize, and that it was wonderful to hear that the award had also gone to a woman. But, somewhat sheepishly, he added that the win was likely to disturb his current work for a few days.
“In some ways it is a distraction, I hate to say this,” he said, adding that he’d been making the most of lockdown to develop new ideas.
Penrose said the win would not stop him working on his latest theories.
“I always thought it is a good thing not to win the Nobel prize too early, because if you get it too early … that is what you are thought of,” he said.
Dr Ziri Younsi, of University College London, an expert on black holes, was enthusiastic about the news. “Black holes are fascinating and enigmatic objects,” he said. “It is wonderful to see the fundamentally important theoretical and observational work of these laureates recognised by the Nobel committee.
“The future of compact object physics and our quest to understand black holes is picking up pace, and hopefully there will be more Nobel prizes on this topic in the years ahead.”