Black holes; one of the least understood phenomena in physics. Their convoluted existence makes it so that every bit of newfound black hole research is immensely valuable.
Ever since Einstein’s theory of relativity predicted black holes in 1905, scientists have been developing mathematical functions and formulas to try and explain and predict their behavior. All this was being done without any concrete evidence of the existence of black holes in the universe.
This was changed, frankly revolutionized, when American astronomer and professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles, Andrea Ghez predicted and proved the existence of a black hole in the center of our galaxy.
“Black holes, because they are so hard to understand, is what makes them so appealing,” Ghez said in an interview with NBC. Since she was a little girl, cosmic quandaries kept Ghez up at night. Her passion to understand the way the universe works led to her research on black holes, and eventually to a highly successful career based around this cosmic curiosity.
While working at UCLA, Ghez had access to the largest telescope in the world, allowing visibility to the center of the Milky Way. While precisely mapping the motion of the stars at the center of our galaxy, Ghez noticed that there was an extremely heavy pull on the star clusters. The stars circled around an invisible mass at extremely high speeds. When further studied, Ghez found that this mysterious clump was four million solar masses packed together in a region no larger than our solar system. A black hole is the only cosmic body that could be the cause of this unexplored phenomenon.
The data collected by Ghez provides substantial evidence for the existence of a supermassive black hole in the center of our universe. The black hole may be a great mystery, but it is clear that Ghez’s talent is not. Her transformative finding not only revolutionized the field of astronomy but also brought her to academic fame with a Nobel prize in 2020. In early October, Ghez claimed the 2020 Nobel prize in physics, making her the fourth woman in history to have won this award.
Following the footsteps of the renowned 18th-century chemist Marie Curie, Ghez too transformed her field of study. Theoretical physics is now one step closer to understanding the complex mystery that is the black hole. Albeit scientists are far from understanding even the simplest function of black holes -as none of its functions are actually simple- every discovery eventually leads to a deeper understanding.
“The discoveries of this year’s Laureates have broken new ground in the study of compact and supermassive objects,” David Haviland, chair of the Nobel Committee for physics said. “But these exotic objects still pose many questions that beg for answers and motivate future research. Not only questions about their inner structure, but also questions about how to test our theory of gravity under the extreme conditions in the immediate vicinity of a black hole.”
As Haviland said, there is still much to be discovered regarding black holes, but Ghez’s research took physicists a whole leap further.
Ghez is an inspiration to the world of science, proving that hard work and dedication can lead to extraordinary success. Not even the gravitational pull of a supermassive black hole can put a dent in Ghez’s determination and brilliance.