Nobel Prize in Physics Honors Scientists Who Transformed Our Ideas About the Cosmos

An artist's depiction of the history of the universe.
An artist's depiction of the history of the universe. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The Nobel Prize in physics has been awarded to three scientists for unraveling the structure and history of the universe and for changing our perspective of Earth's place in it.

Canadian-American James Peebles of Princeton University received one-half of the Nobel "for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said this morning. The other half will be shared by Swiss scientists, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, "for the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star," the Academy said. Mayor is a professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, and Queloz is at both the University of Geneva and the University of Cambridge in the U.K. 

Peebles was key in transforming the field of cosmology — the study of the universe's origin and evolution — from one of speculation to actual science, according to the Nobel Prize organization. His research led to the revelation that just 5% of the universe is normal matter and energy, while about 95% is invisible stuff that physicists call dark matter and dark energy. 

Related: The 11 Biggest Unanswered Questions About Dark Matter

A member of the Nobel Committee for Physics speaks to the media in front of a screen showing the portraits of the laureates of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics: (left to right) James Peebles, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, during the announcement of the winners of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Oct. 8, 2019. (Image credit: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images)

Mayor and Queloz announced the first discovery of an exoplanet, or a planet outside our solar system, orbiting a sun-like star in October 1995. Using custom-made instruments at the Haute-Provence Observatory in southern France, the duo was able to see 51 Pegasi b, a gas giant comparable to Jupiter, according to the Nobel Prize organization.

"This discovery started a revolution in astronomy and over 4,000 exoplanets have since been found in the Milky Way," the Nobel Prize organization said.

Peebles will receive half of the 9 million kronor (about $909,000) Nobel prize, while Mayor and Queloz will split the other half. 

Originally published on Live Science.

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Jeanna Bryner
Jeanna is the managing editor for LiveScience, a sister site to Before becoming managing editor, Jeanna served as a reporter for LiveScience and for about three years. Previously she was an assistant editor at Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a Master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a science journalism degree from New York University. To find out what her latest project is, you can follow Jeanna on Google+.