Stockholm: Roger Penrose of Britain, Reinhard Genzel of Germany and Andrea Ghez of the US won the Nobel Physics Prize on Tuesday for their research into black holes, the Nobel jury said.
The physicists were selected "for their discoveries about one of the most exotic phenomena in the universe, the black hole," the Nobel Committee said.
Penrose, 89, was honoured for showing "that the general theory of relativity leads to the formation of black holes", while Genzel, 68, and Ghez, 55, were jointly awarded for discovering "that an invisible and extremely heavy object governs the orbits of stars at the centre of our galaxy," the jury said. Andrea Ghez is just the fourth woman to receive the physics prize since 1901 when the first Nobel prizes were handed out.
Penrose used mathematical modelling to prove back in 1965 that black holes can form, becoming an entity from which nothing, not even light, may escape. Genzel and Ghez have led research since the early 1990s focusing on a region called Sagittarius A* at the centre of the Milky Way.
Using the world's largest telescopes, they discovered an extremely heavy, invisible object - around 4 million times greater than the mass of our Sun - that pulls on surrounding stars, giving our galaxy its characteristic swirl.
In-person ceremony cancelled
The trio will share the Nobel prize sum of 10 million Swedish kronor (about $1.1 million, 950,000 euros), with half going to Penrose and the other half jointly to Genzel and Ghez. They would normally receive their prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of scientist Alfred Nobel who created the prizes in his last will and testament.
But the in-person ceremony has been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, replaced with a televised ceremony showing the laureates receiving their awards in their home countries. Last year the honour went to Canadian-American cosmologist James Peebles and Swiss astronomers Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz for research that increased the understanding of our place in the universe.
Peebles won for showing that most of the universe is made up of an "unknown dark matter and dark energy," while Mayor and Queloz won for the first discovery, of an exoplanet outside our solar system. This year's Nobels season kicked off Monday when the medicine prize was awarded to Americans Harvey Alter and Charles Rice together with Briton Michael Houghton for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus, paving the way for a cure.
2020: Roger Penrose (Britain), Reinhard Genzel (Germany) and Andrea Ghez (US) for their research into black holes.
2019: James Peebles (Canada-US) for discoveries explaining the universe's evolution after the Big Bang, and Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz (Switzerland) for the first discovery of an exoplanet.
2018: Arthur Ashkin (US), Gerard Mourou (France) and Donna Strickland (Canada) for inventions in the laser field used for advanced precision instruments in corrective eye surgery and industry.
2017: Barry Barish, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss (US) for the discovery of gravitational waves, a phenomenon predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago as part of his theory of general relativity.
2016: David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz (Britain) for their study of strange phenomena in unusual phases, or states, of matter, such as superconductors, superfluids or thin magnetic films.
2015: Takaaki Kajita (Japan) and Arthur McDonald (Canada) for their work on neutrinos.
2014: Isamu Akasaki (Japan), Hiroshi Amano (Japan) and Shuji Nakamura (US) for their work on LED lamps.
2013: Peter Higgs (Britain) and Francois Englert (Belgium) for their work on the so-called Higgs boson, a subatomic particle that gives mass to other particles.
2012: Serge Haroche (France) and David Wineland (US) for experimental methods used to measure and manipulate quantum systems.
2011: Saul Perlmutter, Adam Riess (US) and Brian Schmidt (US-Australian) for discovering the accelerating expansion of the universe.