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Nobel Prize in Physics 2020, awarded for results in the field of black holes

on 08 October 2020

This year, the Nobel Prize in Physics, announced in October, was shared between Roger Penrose from University of Oxford, "for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity" and Reinhard Genzel, of Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, together with Andrea Ghez, from the University of California, " for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy."

The three winners of this year's Nobel Prize in Physics also contributed to the discovery of some of the most exotic objects in the Universe: black holes. Thus, in 1965, 10 years after the death of Albert Einstein, Roger Penrose was able to prove the existence and describe in detail the formation and properties of black holes, starting from the theory of relativity and using revolutionary mathematical methods. Penrose showed that these supermassive objects, which capture everything that comes close and inside which the laws of classical physics no longer apply, are a direct consequence of Einstein's theory of general relativity. Even today, the article in which Roger Penrose published his results is considered the most important first contribution to the theory of relativity since it was formulated.

Twenty-five years later, in 1990, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez led two teams of astronomers that independently studied the centre of our galaxy, more precisely the region called Sagittarius A *. The two teams observed the atypical behaviour of stars in this central region of our galaxy and deduced that they are in the neighbourhood of a super massive, compact object with a mass several million times that of the Sun, which occupies a region about the size of our Solar System. So far, the only object whose characteristics can explain the topology and dynamics of this region is a super massive black hole.

The discovery of this compact object is important not only because it proves Einstein's theory and Penrose's calculations, but also because, in order to make the observations, the technological limits of detection and data processing of that time were exceeded, leading to the progress of observational astrophysics.

The Institute of Space Sciences (ISS) is actively involved in the study of astrophysics in general, and massive and supermassive black holes in particular. It brought contributions such as new concepts and theories of black holes, mass catalogues of black holes or simulations of their formation, development and evolution. The ISS is also at the forefront of space research in the field, for example by participating in the LISA space mission, of the European Space Agency (ESA). The mission aims to study gravitational wave signals originating from the collision of massive objects, including black holes, and to identify the mechanisms behind the formation and evolution of black holes from their creation to present. The Romanian Space Agency (ROSA) consistently supports Romania's contributions to space research, including the LISA mission, our country being anchored in pioneering research of gravitational waves in space.

Image source: NobelPrize.org