The Shaw Prize in Astronomy 2021 is awarded in equal shares to Victoria M Kaspi, Professor of Physics and Director of McGill Space Institute, McGill University, Canada and Chryssa Kouveliotou, Professor and Chair, Department of Physics at George Washington University, USA for their contributions to our understanding of magnetars, a class of highly magnetized neutron stars that are linked to a wide range of spectacular, transient astrophysical phenomena. Through the development of new and precise observational techniques, they confirmed the existence of neutron stars with ultra-strong magnetic fields and characterized their physical properties. Their work has established magnetars as a new and important class of astrophysical objects.
Neutron stars are the ultra-compact remnants of stellar explosions. Most are rapidly rotating with periods of milli-seconds to seconds, and emit powerful beams of electromagnetic radiation (observed as pulsars). As such they are accurate “cosmic clocks” that enable tests of fundamental physics in the presence of a gravitational field many billion times stronger than that on Earth. As a result, the Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded twice for work on pulsars (1974 and 1993).