back to article Massive news, literally: Three super-boffins awarded Nobel Prize in physics for their black-hole breakthroughs

The Nobel Prize in physics has been awarded to three scientists for their work probing some of the most massive and strangest objects in the universe – black holes. Professor Sir Roger Penrose, a British mathematician and popular science author, was given half the share of the ten million Swedish kronor (£866,000 or $1.12m) …

  1. Sceptic Tank
    Pint

    Anyone wanting to investigate a black hole up close should check how tax money disappears in South Africa.

    1. Lars Silver badge
      Alien

      "how tax money disappears in South Africa.",

      Or perhaps "the Black Hole of Calcutta", quoting the Wikipedia.

      "Etymology

      John Michell used the term "dark star",[56] and in the early 20th century, physicists used the term "gravitationally collapsed object". Science writer Marcia Bartusiak traces the term "black hole" to physicist Robert H. Dicke, who in the early 1960s reportedly compared the phenomenon to the Black Hole of Calcutta, notorious as a prison where people entered but never left alive.[57]

      The term "black hole" was used in print by Life and Science News magazines in 1963,[57] and by science journalist Ann Ewing in her article "'Black Holes' in Space", dated 18 January 1964, which was a report on a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held in Cleveland, Ohio.[58][59]

      In December 1967, a student reportedly suggested the phrase "black hole" at a lecture by John Wheeler;[58] Wheeler adopted the term for its brevity and "advertising value", and it quickly caught on,[60] leading some to credit Wheeler with coining the phrase.".

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Congratulations to all !

    I am thrilled to see that Professor Gehz is getting recognition for her work. I have been following (from afar) her lectures and her study of our own supermassive black hole and as soon as I started reading the first paragraph of this article I started wondering if her name would show up.

    It did, and I am very happy for her.

    And for the two others of course, but a bit more for her.

    1. HildyJ Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Congratulations to all !

      This thread is aging but for anyone wanting a deeper dive in Dr. Getz's work and hrr well deserved Nobel, check out

      https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-andrea-ghez-won-the-nobel-for-an-experiment-nobody-thought-would-work/

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Congratulations to all !

        Thank you!

  3. jonha

    I stand corrected. I always thought my wife is the strangest object in the universe.

    1. Spherical Cow
      Coat

      Presumably you are massively attracted to her, you did marry her after all.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    The right thing

    I'm so glad Penrose has won this. I know less about the other two recipients, although obviously the experimental work around GR in the last 30 years has been just heroic and prizes are richly deserved for it. But Penrose is the person who told everyone that black holes were not just some mathematical curiosity in the theory, but something that must happen: starting from any reasonable set of initial conditions, Penrose showed that GR says that you get singularities. That wasn't only a really clever bit of maths, it made a very testable prediction: if we didn't find black holes, GR would be false. And if course he has done an enormous amount of other very beautiful work. It's just great he's won.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Math as proof

    "Sir Roger used topology equations to prove that light can’t escape and time stands still at the center of black holes, within which a singularity would form."

    Take an electron, measure its position, then measure it again, it has moved. Has it moved only when you detected it? No, it's constantly interacting with everything around it, all of which constitute a detection. So it really is in motion. And since there is no difference between the matter in the detector and the matter being studied, the matter in the detector is also moving.

    Which means, you're never actually detecting the motion of matter, you're detecting the net difference between the detector and the particle detected.

    Which should be a duh to you, given Red shift and similar 'net' effects you've already observed. But also because you have these anti-particles that appear to be going backwards in time. Like a video of the spokes on a wheel turning, that sometimes makes the wheels appear to be going backwards, it does not mean they are actually going backwards, it means they are lagging the frame rate of the video.

    So our electron is in motion, and yet it doesn't have a net motion over space. It is some sort of oscillatory motion returning to the same place.

    And that means we have an oscillatory field, electrons have charge, they move, yet overall they have no net motion, so the field they create must be oscillating too.

    And two electrons would push each other to settle towards resonance. So matter must be oscillating in resonance.

    And electrons behave the same across the universe, so the underlying force must propagate infinitely fast to cross that distance, through all paths, and still arrive at the same time to be resonant.

    Is the oscillating system complex or simple? Well the net stable particles detected are electron, proton, free neutron, helium nucleus and so on. VERY VERY FEW stable particles, and all integer multiples of mass. Yep, I said integer, but that should be obvious, since in resonance we only have resonance at the harmonics.

    Such a simple system must be really really simple underneath, that interactions produce so few stable particles (i.e. particles close to resonance).

    So what happens if the oscillation isn't quite in resonance, what happens if our electron doesn't *quite* return to the same place each n resonance oscillations?

    Well then it has some form of motion of the oscillating field. So all motion, electron spin, 'straight' line traversal must be the same mechanism as the oscillations at sub atomic level.

    But that the motion is no longer a property of mass, its not 'momentum', it's an oscillatory motion over an electric-like field that propagates infinitely fast. But you'd expect that because light moves without mass, it is electro magnetic in nature, and it must be moving over this resonant oscillating field too. So the fact these properties are not some magic energy given to mass that creates 'motion' should be obvious.

    If the wavelength of the field was twice as much in one direction, as another, then light would be moving over that field, and so would our electron. Both would move twice as far. So if we tried to measure how far light moves with matter, we will always get the same result. Even if the field is distorted, the same distortion applies to light as to matter.

    So the constant 'speed of light' is illusory. Indeed the magical existence of that constant should tip you off.

    And we judge the passage of time by chemical processes in our brain. Chemical processes require motion. What would happen if the resonant frequency was doubled? Motion would move twice as fast. Those chemical processes would also perform twice as fast, and everything around us would speed up too, to us, time would look the same to us.

    So time is PER OSCILLATION of resonance.

    So , what happens if we create something that oscillates 2x the resonant frequency. Can we perceive the change in time? No, time is per oscillation.

    Remember that we only have harmonics, everything in the harmonic model must exist in the universe, and everything in the universe must exist in the model. Things move very slowly, or very quickly, all particles move close to 0 wavelengths per oscillation or 1 wavelength per oscillation. So things are very close to local resonance in the local field.

    Why is light simple? Because the smallest oscillation you can make that would return to the same place requires 2 oscillations per resonant oscillation of the underlying field. So light is 1 oscillation per resonant oscillation, and all matter is fractional harmonics. To return to the same place requires some pattern of oscillations be executed that takes more than 1 oscillation per oscillation of resonance.

    So what happens at the 2F harmonic? If all matter is fractional harmonics (e.g. F/2, F/3 etc.) what happens at 2F? Well for one thing, you get an event horizon, a barrier which complex matter cannot span because it cannot oscillate part at 1F and part at 2F.

    So lets suppose inside the black hole that our electron is doing 2x the electron oscillatory dance for each dance of an electron outside in the outside field. The wavelength is shortened, but can we perceive it? No again, we can measure the speed of light and get a constant inside with respect to the inside local field. Our matter is scaled, our motion is scaled, it all looks the same to us.

    And what happens if the inner field is not at 2f with respect to the outer field? The INNER electron isn't oscillating twice for each patter in the OUTSIDE field. Motion happens, no different than if the electron didn't return to the same place each time! Spin, wobble, our inner electron might be doing its dance twice as fast, in the INNER field, but with respect to the OUTER field it has motion.

    Outside to you its all twisted up in spirals, and inside its also twisted up in spirals. (It's bigger on the inside.)

    What is a straight line?

    A straight line is whatever path light takes across that field, because we have no way of judging straight. That twisted up field inside the black hole looks like us as regular space. Complete with 'straight' lines, a speed of light constant, regular time. The only hint you are in a black hole is that the black hole is bounded. It has a finite boundary over which you cannot view, and it was created at time N oscillations, so it has an apparent age. An age boundary.

    Does that sound familiar? Yes it does, it sounds like our universe.

    Is there a singularity in the center of a black hole which time stands still? No, the black hole moves over time, the singularity could not.

    Like the "reverse time particles", the presence of a singularity in your equations should tip you off to the false basis of the logic underlying them. I can make an equation predicting the spokes of the wheel going backwards in time, I can cite the observation from my video as 'proof'. I can then build a whole mechanics system on said misunderstanding. Full of magic constants from nowhere and impossible logic. But it would be false.

    Let the penny drop.

    1. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

      Re: Is there a singularity in the center of a black hole which time stands still?

      I refer the honorable gentlebeing to the following text:

      http://pitt.edu/~jearman/Earman_1995BangsCrunches.pdf

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Is there a singularity in the center of a black hole which time stands still?

        Two black holes merge, they spin around each other as that happens. Which means they do not occupy the same space all the time.

        If you have a singularity in the center of them, with time stopped, then that center cannot move, it has no time to move. It could have infinite velocity, and with zero time it would not move. It would be frozen in space. Yet the outside blackhole can/does move. So the singularity would be outside the black hole, as the black hole moves away from it.

        The presence of the singularity in the math is a big tell as to the false nature of the logic underpinning it.

        There's nothing special about this universe. It's what the inside of a black hole looks like. No big bang, not end crunch. Time didn't magically come into existence when this universe was created and it won't stop when we get shredded at the event horizon.

        It's more like a spinning up and spinning down of the outer black hole. The more twisted it gets inside, the deeper the black holes get nested till it oscillates back. More twisted space inside = more space perceived to the people inside. Less twisted up, means less space inside, shrinkage.

        Look, I get I'm asking a lot here, but all I really want is you to accept this observation at face value:

        "Take an electron, measure its position, then measure it again, it has moved. Has it moved only when you detected it? No, it's constantly interacting with everything around it, all of which constitute a detection. So it really is in motion. And since there is no difference between the matter in the detector and the matter being studied, the matter in the detector is also moving."

        You observed it already, you simply have to accept the observation.

        That would be good enough.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Is there a singularity in the center of a black hole which time stands still?

          What a load of guff. The only real question is do you genuinely believe you know something about this subject, or are you fully aware you are talking out of your uranus?

          1. Zolko Silver badge

            Re: Is there a singularity in the center of a black hole which time stands still?

            "talking out of your uranus"

            that would rather be: "talking out of Uranus", alone.

            https://www.flickr.com/photos/rachelsphotos/4741145124

    2. Oh Matron!

      Re: Math as proof

      You did so well until the last sentence.

      A penny doesn't drop; It's the ground rising up to meet it.

      1. joe bixflics

        Re: Math as proof

        I stood on a bridge and watched the river and, lo, it stopped and the bridge flowed.

        -Zen

    3. Def Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Math as proof

      Nurse, I'll have what he's having.

    4. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Math as proof

      https://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/crackpot.html

      A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics:

      A -5 point starting credit.

      1 point for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false.

      2 points for every statement that is clearly vacuous.

      3 points for every statement that is logically inconsistent.

      5 points for each such statement that is adhered to despite careful correction.

      5 points for using a thought experiment that contradicts the results of a widely accepted real experiment.

      5 points for each word in all capital letters (except for those with defective keyboards).

      5 points for each mention of "Einstien", "Hawkins" or "Feynmann".

      10 points for each claim that quantum mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).

      10 points for pointing out that you have gone to school, as if this were evidence of sanity.

      10 points for beginning the description of your theory by saying how long you have been working on it. (10 more for emphasizing that you worked on your own.)

      10 points for mailing your theory to someone you don't know personally and asking them not to tell anyone else about it, for fear that your ideas will be stolen.

      10 points for offering prize money to anyone who proves and/or finds any flaws in your theory.

      10 points for each new term you invent and use without properly defining it.

      10 points for each statement along the lines of "I'm not good at math, but my theory is conceptually right, so all I need is for someone to express it in terms of equations".

      10 points for arguing that a current well-established theory is "only a theory", as if this were somehow a point against it.

      10 points for arguing that while a current well-established theory predicts phenomena correctly, it doesn't explain "why" they occur, or fails to provide a "mechanism".

      10 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Einstein, or claim that special or general relativity are fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).

      10 points for claiming that your work is on the cutting edge of a "paradigm shift".

      20 points for emailing me and complaining about the crackpot index. (E.g., saying that it "suppresses original thinkers" or saying that I misspelled "Einstein" in item 8.)

      20 points for suggesting that you deserve a Nobel prize.

      20 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Newton or claim that classical mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).

      20 points for every use of science fiction works or myths as if they were fact.

      20 points for defending yourself by bringing up (real or imagined) ridicule accorded to your past theories.

      20 points for naming something after yourself. (E.g., talking about the "The Evans Field Equation" when your name happens to be Evans.)

      20 points for talking about how great your theory is, but never actually explaining it.

      20 points for each use of the phrase "hidebound reactionary".

      20 points for each use of the phrase "self-appointed defender of the orthodoxy".

      30 points for suggesting that a famous figure secretly disbelieved in a theory which he or she publicly supported. (E.g., that Feynman was a closet opponent of special relativity, as deduced by reading between the lines in his freshman physics textbooks.)

      30 points for suggesting that Einstein, in his later years, was groping his way towards the ideas you now advocate.

      30 points for claiming that your theories were developed by an extraterrestrial civilization (without good evidence).

      30 points for allusions to a delay in your work while you spent time in an asylum, or references to the psychiatrist who tried to talk you out of your theory.

      40 points for comparing those who argue against your ideas to Nazis, stormtroopers, or brownshirts.

      40 points for claiming that the "scientific establishment" is engaged in a "conspiracy" to prevent your work from gaining its well-deserved fame, or suchlike.

      40 points for comparing yourself to Galileo, suggesting that a modern-day Inquisition is hard at work on your case, and so on.

      40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is. (30 more points for fantasizing about show trials in which scientists who mocked your theories will be forced to recant.)

      50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions.

      © 1998 John Baez

  6. nohomo

    "...part of a team..."

    You can get a Nobel prize for looking through a telescope nowadays?

    Or is there something else involved?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "...part of a team..."

      The "something else" is realizing what you are looking at, and that it is consistent with theoretical models. Using those models to calculate a solar mass of 4.1 million solar masses is a nice result. Observing that it changes on a short timescale (meaning it's small in size, if not in mass) is the icing on the cake.

      Predicted it, found it, measured it. Three super-boffins indeed.

      1. HildyJ Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: "...part of a team..."

        The three boffins absolutely deserve the prize.

        But let's hope some of their prize money goes to pints for the unsung heroes of science - the teams of sub boffins and boffins in training that supported the prize winners in their discoveries. Cheers all around.

        1. Zolko Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: "...part of a team..."

          "money goes to pints for the unsung heroes of science"

          Thanks, that would be me: I did participate in building the GRAVITY instrument that allowed Gensel to get his Nobel Prize.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: "...part of a team..."

      > You can get a Nobel prize for looking through a telescope nowadays?

      No, but if you direct the telescope at the ladies boarding house you'll be considered ignoble.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Boffin

      Re: "...part of a team..."

      All of experimental science involves the equivalent of 'looking through a telescope'. And yet, it's not easy, and people get and deserve prizes for doing it.

      First you have to work out that it might be possible to see the thing you are trying to see and how you might see it. Then you have to work out how to build a suitable telescope or set of telescopes to see it. Then you have to establish that such a thing can be built with the technology we have, or indeed at all. Then you have to build one, or a series of better ones, understanding that the first ones you build will probably not work as the technology does not yet exist to build one, since it is being created by you building one. Then you have to 'look through it', or in fact, have some system which takes a lot of data from it. Then you need to process this data in likely ingenious ways which you need to invent. Then you have to interpret what you have found, making sure that you have kept enough track of all the uncertainties involved everywhere in the process that you can make a convincing case that your interpretation is correct. Then, may be, some of you get a prize.

      Think of it as being a bit like the Apollo programme, except very often done on a shoestring budget (but usually without so much risk of people dying if you get it wrong). Just like Apollo these are things we do 'not because they are easy, but because they are hard'.

      (Note I am not an experimenal scientist: these people are cleverer than I could hope to be.)

    4. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      Re: "...part of a team..."

      "You can get a Nobel prize for looking through a telescope nowadays?"

      well, ask Jocelyn Bell Burnell:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulsar

      She discovered Pulsars, but her boss, Hewish, who designed and had the radio telescope built got the credit.

      https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/sep/06/jocelyn-bell-burnell-british-astrophysicist-overlooked-by-nobels-3m-award-pulsars

      "The discovery was so dramatic it was awarded the Nobel prize in 1974. But while Hewish was named as a winner, Bell Burnell was not. The decision drew vocal criticism from the British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, but Bell Burnell has not complained."

  7. FrenchFries!

    I need less gluons in my diet.

  8. Conundrum1885

    Supermassive

    Just a random thought: did you know that near a neutron star its possible to see parts of the back from the front because light is curved by the strong gravity.

    If you think a neutron star is massive, a small black hole can be even heavier yet pack that same mass into an object with an event horizon less than 20cm across.

    Its astonishing that we haven't detected anything much smaller than 1.8 M(0) but perhaps they are out there waiting to be found.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Boffin

      Re: Supermassive

      Even better, if you look at a black hole (or just next to it) you can see yourself. And in fact an infinite number of copies of yourself.

      (I don't think you actually can, because you don't get an image: what you can see, in principle, is photons which were emitted from you, passed right round the object an arbitrary number of times before escaping back to you.)

  9. Gene Cash Silver badge

    "black hole" in Russian

    I remember Isaac Asimov once remarking that "black hole" is a very vulgar term in Russian, and Russian astronomy was having a difficult time with it.

    1. Dante Alighieri Bronze badge
      Facepalm

      Stumped. Tree Stumped

      well at least the article references 1964 Black BOLES so hopefully less obscene.

      Corrections doesn't allow me to post from my obsolete email account.....

    2. Lars Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: "black hole" in Russian

      We are indeed rather funny regarding "colour".

      I have spent months and months on beaches surrounded by people covered in sand and all sorts of ointments and oily stuff, people ranging from white to pale blue and pink or wildly red or covered in spots of coulours I cannot describe, all there to become more brown, or as we say properly sun burnt with various results.

      But as this comment is about the Nobel prize and the Russian language presumable there is indeed one place some people are willing to pay for, to have a more pale hole.

      For information regarding clinics try the internet.

      And meanwhile the chief of white supremacy is painting his face pink. It is what it is.

  10. USER100

    Underrated dude

    SRP is probably not at all bothered about this (well deserved) gong. It's a shame more people aren't more familiar with his ideas though. Seriously, read some of his books, it's worth it.

  11. Celeste Reinard

    B-holes

    I recall as far back in time as 1987, when Penrose had the same age I have now, some journalist snorting at this know-it-all noting a few typo's in some equations in his new book - B-holes still not being understood, being exceptionally dim and dense... and of great importance to philosophy, as I discovered later. Most philosophers appear not even aware of the importance of time and space - theologians being at the forefront of cluelessness, but so many others that do not even give it a second look. While vast tracts of knowledge are dependent on the elements of space and time, and our comprehension of those - and hence moral philosophy... Also, vast tracts of shelf space can be rendered to the bin (which I have been paid to do chez Swets & Blackwell, as a matter of fact) being vacuous. In practical sense, I binned all theology, usually some 6 months after I shelved it, not being sold. Poetry as well, by the way. ... A fact that stood out most here is that works on poetry and theology are small, with lots of white space, while hard science is densly printed. (Just like the works on law and tax - the latter being most expensive.)

  12. Zebo-the-Fat

    Late?

    Penrose has got the prize for his work in 1964, why such a long wait? Were they hoping he would die so they could save the money? (I think you need to be alive to win the prize)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Boffin

      Re: Late?

      Since the prize is awarded to someone anyway they don't save any money.

      The real reason is that the prize is awarded for discoveries, not theories, and that the Nobel committee is rather conservative: better to award the prize later than to award it for work which turns out not to be a discovery at all. What Penrose did in 1964 was to show that black holes (technically, that singularities) were a robust prediction of GR. Before that, very many people assumed that BHs would probably only arise in artificially symmetric cases, and thus would probably never actually arise. Penrose showed, conclusively, that starting from almost any set of initial conditions, you got BHs (singularities, technically, again). This was an astonishing result, because it meant that, if GR was correct, then there would be BHs.

      But it didn't become a discovery because there was still the chance that GR was not correct: a theorem about an incorrect theory of physics is not a discovery. This is particularly important because we know GR is not correct in some limits anyway, and we had no really strong reason to believe that it remained correct long enough for BHs to actually form.

      Well, since 1964 we've had increasingly good tests of GR, up to and including many observations of objects which make no sense unless they are BHs, such as Sag A*, the direct imaging of the immediate environment of M87* by the EHT and so on (I'm not aware of any experimental tests that GR has failed). It's really clear now that GR is a good theory up to the point where the prediction that BHs are inevitable is a real discovery about the world.

      But a fair amount of this work is recent – within the last ten years or so – which is why the prize has been awarded now.

      (Amazingly, there is other work he could have been awarded Nobel prizes for previously, just in chemistry rather than physics.)

  13. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Professor Sir Roger Penrose

    I once met Sir Roger Penrose, and told him about some maths I was interested in. I got the impression that he understood it better than I dd, before I had finished. He does seem to be a nice chap, but he listens in a a way nobody I have met before or since does, which is like really scary, because you know he understands everything you say.

    1. bonkers

      Re: Professor Sir Roger Penrose

      @Eclectic Man

      I seem to be in agreement with you again.

      Penrose is a true genius and richly deserving of a Nobel Prize - the only problem would be which of his many contributions to reward.

      The scary aspect you mention is perfectly demonstrated if you look at either of the interviews linked-to.

      It's like being a wondrous child again, hearing grown-ups discuss stuff way beyond your reach - yet you make some sense of it.

      I know what you mean - he sees your method and conclusion from the moment you set the problem - but in a kind way.

      I love it, they're casually describing Riemann space, surfaces, Weyl curvature, negative dimensionality, Penrose's Spinors and Twistor theory, meetings with Dirac - and a few sideways jibes at the popular stuff. - It's neither dark, nor energy, guys ... They simply don't give a shit if you're not keeping up - no soothing music, sunsets, permagrinned oxytocin junkies - they just keep on talking - and it's brilliant.

      The interviews are simply lovely, he is such a modest character. Oscar Wilde might quip that he has much to be modest about? - and quite right, he does, about a Nobel Prizes worth.

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