This week Swiss physicists Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, who are based at the University of Geneva, were awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering the first exoplanet orbiting a sun-like star in 1995.
Exoplanets, or extra solar planets, are planets beyond our solar system. The National Geographic video above explains their discovery and significance.
In 1995, Professor Michel Mayor and his doctoral student Didier Queloz discovered 51 Pegasi B, a planet orbiting a sun-like star beyond our solar system. Their discovery created great interest in the field and research since then has led to the discovery of around 4,000 exoplanets, some of which might support life. Proxima Centauri b, the closest potentially habitable exoplanet, is 40 trillion km (4.2 light years) from earth.
“No one knew whether exoplanets existed or not,” recalls Michel Mayor. The technology needed to enable such a discovery did not exist until 1993 when the Elodie spectrograph went into service in 1993 at the Haute-Provence Observatory, in France. Its accuracy enabled Mayor and Queloz to spot something in 1994. However, it took them until 6 October 1995 to confirm their discovery.
Mayor and Queloz share the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics with Canadian-American cosmologist James Peebles who has made many important contributions to the Big Bang model.
University of Geneva press release (in English)