October 12, 2020

2020 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded for research using ESO telescopes

Three scientists share this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for their discoveries about one of the most exotic phenomena in the universe, the black hole: Roger Penrose, University of Oxford, UK, Reinhard Genzel, Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Germany and University of California, Berkeley, USA, and Andrea Ghez, University of California, Los Angeles, USA.

Roger Penrose showed that the general theory of relativity predicts the inevitable formation of black holes. Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez discovered that an invisible and extremely heavy object governs the orbits of stars at the centre of our galaxy. A supermassive black hole is the only currently known explanation.

The European Southern Observatory, ESO, has worked in close collaboration with Genzel and his group for around 30 years. Since the early 1990s, Genzel and his team, in cooperation with ESO, have developed instruments designed to track the orbits of stars in the Sagittarius A* region at the centre of the Milky Way, a vital part of this pioneering research on black holes.

“We are proud that the telescopes ESO builds and operates at its observatories in Chile played a key role in this discovery," says ESO's Director General Xavier Barcons. “The work done by Reinhard Genzel with ESO telescopes and by Andrea Ghez with the Keck telescopes in Hawaii has enabled unprecedented insight into Sagittarius A*, which confirmed predictions of Einstein’s general relativity."

Johan Warell is the ESO:s science outreach representative  for Sweden.

Johan Warell is the ESO:s science outreach representative for Sweden.

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. Johan Warell is the Swedish representative of the ESO Science Outreach Network.

“To increase understanding of the very remote black holes, observations with a wide angular resolution and sensitivity are needed,” he explains.

“International collaborations, such as ALMA and ESO, enable astronomers and physicists to develop telescopes and other instrumentation for such studies.

“The Onsala Space Observatory is one of the leading institutions in the international collaboration, both in terms of observations and instrument development for new and existing radioastronomy facilities.”

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