Million-dollar prize for black hole breakthrough

15 January 2016

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award The Crafoord Prize in Astronomy 2016 to Professor Roy Kerr.

Million-dollar prize for black hole breakthrough

Professor Roy Kerr, recipient of the 2016 Crafoord Prize.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award The Crafoord Prize in Astronomy 2016 to Roy Kerr, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand, and Roger Blandford, Stanford University, CA, USA, “for fundamental work concerning rotating black holes and their astrophysical consequences”.

Black holes are the origin of the universe’s most powerful light, with rays that can stretch many thousands of light years out into space. Roy Kerr created one of the most important tools in modern astrophysics and cosmology early in his career, when he discovered a mathematical description of rotating black holes before anyone had even seen them.

Black holes are the strangest result of the general theory of relativity. When Albert Einstein finally presented his theory in November 1915, he described gravity as a geometric property of space and time, spacetime. All massive space objects bend spacetime; they create a pit into which smaller objects can fall. The greater the mass, the deeper the pit. The mass of a black hole is so great that nothing that ends up in there can escape, not even light.

It took until 1963 for someone to solve Einstein’s equations for black holes that could possibly be found in the universe – rotating black holes – and it was mathematician Roy Kerr who succeeded. At about the same time, astronomers discovered galaxies that emitted light that was so strong it outshone several hundred ordinary galaxies. They were named quasars. Nothing other than a black hole could give the quasars their luminosity.

So how is the strong light of rotating black holes created? This question was answered by Roger Blandford in 1977. Ever since, he has refined and made more realistic models of how gas surrounding a black hole flows towards it, is heated up and transforms some of its gravitational energy to radiation.

FACT FILE

  • Roy Kerr, born 1934 in Kurow, New Zealand. PhD 1959 at University of Cambridge, Great Britain. Emeritus Professor at University of Canterbury, awarded honorary doctorate from the  University of Canterbury in December 2015.
  • Roger Blandford, born 1949 in Grantham, Great Britain. PhD 1974 at University of Cambridge, Great Brittan. Luke Blossom Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, Stanford University, CA, USA.
  • The Crafoord Prize in Astronomy prize amount of 6 million Swedish krona (over $NZ 1 million) is shared equally between the Laureates. The Crafoord Prize award ceremony is to be held at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on 26 May 2016, in the presence of Their Majesties the King and Queen of Sweden.

For further information please contact:
Margaret Agnew
Senior External Relations Advisor
Communications and Engagement
University of Canterbury
Ph: (03) 364 2775
Mobile: 027 5030 168
margaret.agnew@canterbury.ac.nz

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