The 2020 Prize in Astronomy
Roger D Blandford
for his foundational contributions to theoretical astrophysics, especially concerning the fundamental understanding of active galactic nuclei, the formation and collimation of relativistic jets, the energy extraction mechanism from black holes, and the acceleration of particles in shocks and their relevant radiation mechanisms.
The Shaw Prize in Astronomy 2020 is awarded to Roger D Blandford, Luke Blossom Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and Professor of Physics and of Particle Physics and Astrophysics, Stanford University, USA for his foundational contributions to theoretical astrophysics, especially concerning the fundamental understanding of active galactic nuclei, the formation and collimation of relativistic jets, the energy extraction mechanism from black holes, and the acceleration of particles in shocks and their relevant radiation mechanisms.
Roger D Blandford is one of the most outstanding all-round theoretical astrophysicists of his generation. He has made major contributions to an extremely broad spectrum of astrophysical problems, arguably placing him among the rare group of “universal” scientists. He has been one of the leaders in the modelling and interpretation of gravitational lensing. He has contributed to the interpretation of γ-ray data from the Fermi spacecraft and to the study of gravitational waves. His most important research contributions deal with the fundamental understanding of active galactic nuclei (AGN) and their relativistic jets.
An Essay on the Prize
In 1918, the American astronomer Heber Curtis used the Crossley Reflector at Lick Observatory in California to take optical photographs of nearby galaxies. When observing M87, the central elliptical galaxy in the Virgo galaxy cluster 53 million light years from the Sun, Curtis noted the lack of a spiral structure and observed a “curious straight ray ... apparently connected with the nucleus by a thin line of matter”. This measurement heralded the discovery of radio jets, the ejection of highly collimated, relativistic plasma streams or “blobs”, from a central energy source. Forty years later radio astronomers in the UK and Australia discovered a new class of “radio stars” not obviously connected with bright optical nebulae. Caltech astronomer Maarten Schmidt then used the large 5 m Hale telescope on Palomar to identify a faint, compact optical nebula associated with one of these radio stars, 3C273. Schmidt interpreted the substantial (16%) redshift of all spectral lines in the optical spectrum as being caused by the expansion of the Universe. If so, 3C273 must be 2.4 billion light years from us, 45 times further away than M87, and the optical luminosity of the faint compact speck would have to be about one thousand times greater than the 100 billion stars of our Milky Way. Thus began the subject of quasars, quasi-stellar radio sources. Many quasars and other somewhat less spectacular “active galactic nuclei” (AGN) exhibit powerful radio jets.
Roger D Blandford
Roger D Blandford was born in 1949 in Grantham, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom and is currently Luke Blossom Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and Professor of Physics and of Particle Physics and Astrophysics, Stanford University, USA. He obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Theoretical Physics and his PhD from Cambridge University, UK in 1970 and 1974 respectively. He was a Charles Kingsley Bye-Fellow at Magdalene College (1972–1973) and Research Fellow at St John’s College (1973–1976), Cambridge University. He then joined California Institute of Technology, USA, where he was successively Assistant Professor (1976–1979), Professor (1979–1989) and Richard Chace Tolman Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics (1989–2004). He was the Pehong and Adele Chen Director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) (2003–2013) and Professor of Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (2003–2005) at Stanford University, USA. He was also a KIPAC Division Head, PPA Directorate at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (2005–2013). He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.
22 Apr 2021 Hong Kong (Revised)