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Nobel Prize winners’ exoplanet discovery started a ‘remarkable era of discovery’

Media Contact

Gillian Smith

The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded Tuesday to a Canadian-American cosmologist and two Swiss scientists for their work in understanding how the universe has evolved from the Big Bang and the discovery of the first known planet outside of our solar system. Cornell University experts are available to discuss the impact their work had on our understanding of the cosmos. 


Lisa Kaltenegger

Professor of Astronomy, Director of the Carl Sagan Institute

Lisa Kaltenegger, director of Cornell University’s Carl Sagan Institute, professor of astrophysics, and one of the world’s leading experts on exoplanets, says the discovery of exoplanets opened the door for investigating whether we are alone in the universe. A video of Didier Queloz speaking at the inauguration of the Carl Sagan Institute can be found here.

Kaltenegger says: 

“Discovery opened our exploration of these brand-new worlds, and now 24 years later we are at the verge of finding out if we are alone in the universe. I am excited that the amazing discovery that started our exploration of these fascinating new worlds got honored with the Nobel Prize today. 

“Didier Queloz and Michel Mayor detected the first planet orbiting a Sun-like star 24 years ago, the first of more than 4000 known exoplanets to date. 

“We have discovered that every 5th star has a planet that could be just like our own. With 200  billion stars in our galaxy alone, I really like our chances of finding life in the universe.

“The next steps, inspired by the amazing discovery 24 years ago of the first exoplanet, is to collect enough light from these small planets in the habitable zone to figure out if there are signs of life in their atmosphere. We are already building the telescopes that can collect enough light to answer the fundamental question of whether we are alone in the universe - or not.”

Ray Jayawardhana

Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences

Ray Jayawardhana, exoplanet astronomer and author of “Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life beyond our Solar System," is the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell. He says the Nobel Prize winners changed our understanding of the cosmos.

“After millennia of speculation and decades of failed attempts, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz discovered a planet orbiting a normal star other than the Sun for the first time in 1995. Their finding, a hot gas giant whizzing around its star every few days —unlike any planet in our solar system— unleashed a remarkable era of discovery that continues unabated to this day. By now astronomers have found thousands of exoplanets —quite a change from the one solar system we knew about just quarter of a century ago.  Our understanding of our place in the cosmos has changed dramatically in a single generation.”

“It’s been a honour knowing Michel and Didier over many years – I interviewed both for my book Strange New Worlds. Recently, I saw both at the Geneva Observatory in July, when I gave a colloquium there, and Didier again in August at an exoplanet conference in Reyjavik.” 


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