GYSS 2020 Web Banner (low res)

Didier Queloz

Nobel Prize in Physics

2019

Professor Didier Queloz was the first to discover a planet orbiting a sun-like star outside of our solar system, shedding light on planetary systems and giving scientists a new means to better understand the origins of life. In 2019, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics along with two other scientists for his seminal discovery.

He was observing 134 bright stars in 1994 when he found that the light from one of them was wobbling, indicating that a planet’s gravity might be pulling on it. After checks and further research, he confirmed the existence of the extrasolar planet, or exoplanet, which was subsequently named 51 Pegasi b after the star it orbits. 

Although the planet is uninhabitable due to its surface temperature of about 1000 degrees Celsius, its announcement in 1995 sparked a race to find other exoplanets. Over 4,000 of them have been uncovered, many of them by Professor Queloz himself, with an incredible variety in their sizes, forms and orbits. 

“They challenge our preconceived ideas about planetary systems and are forcing scientists to revise their theories of the physical processes behind the origins of planets. With numerous projects planned to search for exoplanets, we may eventually find an answer to the eternal question of whether other life is out there,” the Nobel Prize committee said.

More recently, Professor Queloz took part in the first space mission dedicated to exoplanet research, started the Characterising Exoplanet Satellite, or CHEOPS, project, to build and launch a satellite to study known exoplanets, and is leading the Terra Hunting Experiment, an initiative by a consortium of institutes to find Earth-like planets. 

He has also developed better instruments and techniques to detect exoplanets, including the software that detected  51 Pegasi b, and more precise spectrographs, which astronomers use to measure electromagnetic radiation from stars and other celestial objects. He shared a 2011 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award for this work. 

Professor Queloz currently holds appointments as Professor in Astronomy in the University of Geneva, and Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge, where he leads a research programme to understand the formation, structures and habitability of exoplanets. His other awards include the Wolf Prize in Physics, and he is a fellow of the Royal Society.