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Dr Michel Mayor wins 2015 Kyoto Prize

Last Updated on Monday, 29 June 2015 11:27
Published on Friday, 26 June 2015 09:59

Dr Michel Mayor, who will receive the RAS Gold Medal at the July National Astronomy Meeting, has been awarded the 2015 Kyoto Prize, for his work on the discovery and characterisation of exoplanets, planets around other stars. Dr Mayor developed the radial velocity technique, where astronomers measure the position of lines in the spectrum of stars, to measure their movement along the line of sight.

A Gold - Mayor-smallAs a planet moves around a star, its gravitational pull makes the star move back and forth in turn. In the so-called Doppler Effect, the spectral lines move in the direction of the red end of the spectrum when the star moves away from us, and the blue end when it moves towards us.

With current instrumentation, astronomers can use it to see changes in a star’s line of sight velocity of as little as 1 metre per second and hence detect the presence of planets in orbit around it. This technique led to Mayor’s 1995 famous discovery of the first planet in orbit around a sun-like star, 51 Pegasi b.

Prof Martin Barstow, President of the Royal Astronomical Society, offered his congratulations. He said: “25 years ago no one could be sure that the Solar System wasn’t unique, as there was no hard evidence for planets in orbit around other stars. Michel Mayor’s pioneering work helped change all that, and we know now of nearly 2000 worlds. I’m delighted to see his efforts recognised in this way.”