Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Peebles & exoplanets share the 2019 Nobel prize in physics

I watched the press conference at which the 2019 Nobel prize in physics was announced. The announcement started at 11:50 am Central European Summer Time (which is also our time here).

It's ironic that some common sense and meritocracy that we used to know comes from... Sweden. The first good sign was that the Nobel committee hasn't removed the dude wall yet. And the Nobel committee room at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has quite a dude wall, indeed. After all, even Alfred Nobel has failed to undergo the sex-changing surgery in memorian so far.

One-half of the prize goes to Jim Peebles (picture above) – who is undoubtedly one of the most important living theoretical cosmologists. The precise discovery for which the prize was given was somewhat unclear although "something fundamental about cosmology" is clear from the description. With Dicke, he later "co-predicted" the cosmic microwave background and contributed to the theory of nucleosynthesis, dark matter, and star formation.

He's been undoubtedly very important for the recent 2 decades of the measurement of the cosmic microwave background, too. His name only appears in 5 TRF blog posts but be sure that it understates his importance for cosmology. Peebles is underrepresented here mainly because this is a blog largely (but not only) about the hot topics and the future, not about the established things that Peebles still helped to settle.

The second half of the Nobel prize will be divided between two people who were discovering the exoplanets:
Michel Mayor, Didier Queloz.
The award is probably given for to their rather old, and probably seminal, 1995 paper on the discovery of Jupiter-mass exoplanets. I have no idea whether these two guys are the most deserving ones in the exoplanet research (they're almost certainly among the oldest researchers in that field) but I find those projects (and their explosion in recent years etc., Kepler...) interesting enough – although somewhat straightforward.

String theorist Ulf Danielsson (my heterotic matrix model papers etc. cited him repeatedly) gave a nice speech mansplaining what all these three men have done. His speech began with the recitation of several initial sentences from The Big Bang Theory theme song. Unlike his 16-year-old countrymate, Danielsson would surely advance in Got Talent. Maybe he expected a huge laughter in the room but there was just awkward silence: either the people are sourballs, or cowards, or they are unfamiliar with the most successful sitcom of the recent decade.

But Ulf, be sure about it, I was laughing out loud. It was wonderful how you started! ;-) Hopefully thousands of others were entertained, too.

I am very satisfied with this choice. I said that the exoplanet discovery was "straightforward" but it's still new in some way that matters. Jim Peebles was on the phone. He said lots of things about the science, about ETs who might be everywhere around us LOL, mansplained to a very uninformed woman that it is not crazy that he got this prize ;-), and encouraged the young scientists to do the science because of the science and not some superficial reasons such as these awards. It's probably too much to ask for today.

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