The 2005 Prize in Astronomy
For finding and characterizing the orbits and masses of the first planets around other stars, thereby revolutionizing our understanding of the processes that form planets and planetary systems.
The Copernican Revolution spawned the notion that the stars might be other suns and that planetary worlds might orbit such suns. When the first giant planet around a sunlike star was found in 1995, however, it curiously lay at a distance from its central star which is only 1% the radius of Jupiter's orbit about the Sun. Later discoveries revealed other surprises: the frequency of planets depends strongly on the abundance of heavy elements such as iron in the star; planets in systems with multiple members often have orbital periods that bear an integer relationship to one another; the orbits of extrasolar planets are much more elongated than the nearly circular orbits of the planets in our own solar system; although extrasolar planets have a wide distribution of masses, none exceeds 10 Jupiter masses. For these pioneering, puzzling results, Marcy and Mayor are awarded the 2005 Shaw Prize in Astronomy.
An Essay on the Prize
The Copernican Revolution spawned the notions that the stars might be suns in their own right and that planetary worlds might orbit such suns. The idea that stars are suns gained plausibility through the investigations by Wollaston and Fraunhofer who showed that the Sun and many stars exhibit similar spectral signatures. It became established scientific fact in 1838 when Bessel, Struve, and Henderson determined, respectively, the distances to 61 Cygni, Vega, and Alpha Centauri, and calculated that they have absolute brightness similar to the Sun. The idea that planets orbit other normal stars remained in the realm of philosophical speculation until 1995, when Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz found, and Geoffrey Marcy and Paul Butler confirmed, the existence of the first planet around a sunlike star, 51 Pegasi. Since that exciting result a decade ago, Marcy and Mayor have led the two most productive and successful research groups searching for extrasolar planets.
Both groups detect extrasolar planets by finding small periodic variations in the radial velocity of the host star. Along with a number of other groups, they worked in relative obscurity for many years, in large part because most astronomers believed that these radial-velocity oscillations would be too small to detect in plausible planetary systems. This belief was based on the analogy with our own solar system, resulting in the theoretical prejudice that massive planets could not form close to their host star, where they would generate the largest reflex motion in the central body.
Geoffrey Marcy, born 1954 is the Professor of Astronomy, University of California, Berkeley and Adjunct Professor of Physics and Astronomy, San Francisco State University.
He graduated from UCLA, Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa in 1976 with a B A (Double Major: Physics and Astronomy), and attained his PhD (Astronomy and Astrophysics) at the University of California Santa Cruz (1982).
He was the Carnegie Fellow, Carnegie Institution of Washington (1982 - 1984), the Associate-Full Professor of Physics and Astronomy, San Francisco State University (1984 - 1996); and Distinguished University Professor, San Francisco State University (1997 - 1999). He was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2002.
3 June 2005, Hong Kong
Michel Mayor, born 1942 is currently Professor at the Department of Astronomy, University of Geneva, and since 1998 has been the Director of the Geneva Observatory.
Professor Mayor studied physics at Lausanne University (1966) and then attained his PhD at the Geneva University (1971). He has been research associate at the Geneva University (1971 - 1984) and the Professor of Astronomy since 1988.
He has taken part in and continues to contribute to the work of the international scientific community, at the European Southern Observatory (ESO, Chile) and at the Observatoire de Haute-Provence (CNRS, France), with stays at Cambridge Observatory (UK) in 1971 and at the University of Hawaii (1994 - 1995), undertaking work at the Presidency of the Commission on the galactic structure of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) (1988 - 1991), of the Scientific and Technical Committee of the European Southern Observatory (1990 - 1992) and of the Swiss Society of Astrophysics and Astronomy (1990 - 1993).
3 June 2005, Hong Kong