Crafoord Prize for Reinhard Genzel

The Max Planck researcher is honoured for his work on supermassive black holes

January 24, 2012

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced today that the Crafoord Prize in Astronomy 2012 will be jointly awarded to Reinhard Genzel from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, and Andrea Ghez from the University of California, Los Angeles, USA "for their observations of the stars orbiting the galactic centre, indicating the presence of a supermassive black hole".

The official statement specifies that both laureates have found the most reliable evidence to date that supermassive black holes really exist. For decades, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez, with their research teams, have tracked stars around the centre of the Milky Way galaxy. Separately, they both arrived at the same conclusion: in our home galaxy resides a giant black hole called Sagittarius A*.

Black holes are impossible to observe directly - everything in their vicinity vanishes into them, virtually nothing is let out. The only way of exploring black holes is to investigate the effects their gravitation has on the surroundings. From the motions of stars around the centre of the Milky Way, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez, and their colleagues, estimated the mass of Sagittarius A* at some four million solar masses. Sagittarius A* is our closest supermassive black hole. It allows astronomers to better investigate gravity and explore the limitations of the theory of relativity.

The Crafoord Prize in astronomy and mathematics, biosciences, geosciences or polyarthritis research is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences annually according to a rotating scheme. The first prize was awarded in 1982 and starting in 2012, there will be two separate prizes in astronomy and mathematics awarded at the same time, each with a prize sum of SEK 4 million.

The prize is presented in April/May on "Crafoord Day". It is received from the hand of His Majesty the King of Sweden. In connection with the Crafoord Day, a symposium in the discipline in question is arranged by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Reinhard Genzel was born 1952 in Bad Homburg vor der Höhe. He received his doctoral degree in 1978 from the Universität Bonn. Since 1986 he is Director at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, honorary professor at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (since 1988), and Full Professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley (since 1999).


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