"I was taking measurements with the telescope at the Observatory of Haute-Provence and focused on 142 stars, when I got some extraordinary results," recalls Didier Queloz, at the time a young doctoral student in astrophysics who worked with Prof. Michel Mayor. It was a January night in 1995. Within a few weeks, the two researchers were quite certain: the light emitted by the fifty-first star of the constellation Pegasus, 42 light-years from Earth, revealed the presence of a planetary companion: a gaseous giant resembling Jupiter and soon baptised 51Peg b, which orbits the star with an unusually short period. The discovery was published in the influential magazine Nature. The media exploded at the news. The world press went into raptures over this first planet ever to be found circling a Sun other than our own - an "exoplanet". That exoplanets existed had been assumed for a long time, but scientists were not looking for them with the right methods.
That discovery revolutionised modern-day astronomy. The two researchers from the Geneva University made history.
This short film is part of Sciencesuisse, a program that investigates the fascinating world of science and its key players. Devoted to individual Swiss researchers or teams as well as to foreign scientists working for Swiss institutions who stand out internationally for their research work in different fields, this content-rich and accurate multimedia product consists of two DVDs with 25 portraits of great scientists, plus a book that features articles and pictures. The article about M. Mayor and D. Queloz is by O. Dessibourg.