The Swiss astronomers Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz have received the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of the first exoplanet in 1995 – which they discovered while at the Observatoire de Haute-Provence, which was then a CNRS observatory. They detected the planet through its tiny gravitational pull on the star 51 Pegasi, a technique that is now used to study some of the more than 4000 known exoplanets. They share the prize with cosmologist James Peebles for his theoretical work describing how the Universe evolved following the Big Bang.
Mayor and Queloz’s discovery was made possible thanks to the Elodie instrument, then unique in the world and installed on the 193-cm diameter telescope. Designed by the the Observatoire de Marseille, the Observatoire de Haute-Provence and the Observatoire de Genève, Elodie was built by the teams at the Observatoire de Haute-Provence to measure the radial velocity of stars – that is, their speed in relation to the Earth. Elodie’s successor, Sophie, which in turn has been installed at the OHP, is one of the best instruments in the world in its category.
The new laureates will receive their prizes in Stockholm on the 10th December.
Materials provided by the CNRS.