Two Latin astronomers stand out in the world of space explorationafter having won the New Horizons Prize in Physics, from the Breakthrough Prize Foundationone of the most prestigious awards called the ‘Oscar of Science’. Called Laura Pérez, Chilean, and Paola Pinilla, Colombian. Therefore, let’s get to know them both a little, in addition to talking about the brilliant discovery they made in the universe.
Both astronomers spoke exclusively with the website of the BBC World (Spanish version). They told of their feelings about this achievement, their training process as astronomers, both in Chile as in Colombiaand also offered details about the research that led them to obtain this award.
What did they discover? It is the first thing anyone asks themselves, when understanding the magnitude of this award that only world-renowned scientists, such as they are now, win.
Pérez, a 39-year-old Chilean, and Pinilla, a 37-year-old Colombian, sign as the main authors of a research that helps understand the origin and formation of the planets. The Latin astronomers managed to predict and discover, to later make an illustrative model, of the so-called dust traps (dust traps).
This is known as the protoplanetary disks full of gas and dust with which planets end up forming. Saturn, to give an example from our Solar System, still has remains of its protoplanetary disk, according to theories of planet formation.
The theory said that planets form from the dust in these disks, and that in principle remains the case. The doubt was in the key element of these materials, since they surprisingly survived the attacks of a massive star.
Well, these two brilliant minds detected that in the dust traps there are particles that accumulate in their deepest core, which allows them to grow and survive the radiation and temperatures of a star.
“This is where the solid material concentrates and allows planetary formation. If they did not exist, this material would end up being absorbed by the star,” Laura Pérez told BBC Mundo.
“There are still many open questions, but today we know that these structures are critical to understanding the first steps of planetary formation,” adds Paola Pinilla.
The astronomers credit two other scientists who worked with them: Tilman Birnstiel (from the Ludwig Maximilian University, in Germany) and Nienke van der Marel (from the University of Leiden, in the Netherlands).
Laura Pérez is a national talent. She graduated from the University of Chile, where she completed a master’s degree in astronomy. She then completed her preparation with a doctorate at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). She later worked at the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and at the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, in Germany.
Paola Pinilla’s case is similar to Laura’s. She studied at the University of Los Andes, in Bogotá and when she was only 24 years old she went to Europe to work at the European Southern Observatory.
He later completed doctoral studies in astrophysics at the University of Heidelberg (Germany), and has a postdoctoral degree at the University of Leiden, in the Netherlands. Pinilla received the Hubble scholarship, which NASA grants to study at a North American university and then apply said knowledge with the space agency.
Pinilla works investigating the mysteries of space at University College London. While Laura Pérez does it frequently from ALMA, an observatory located in the north of Chile.
Regarding these facilities and the views of the universe from this Chilean region, Pérez says that we have a “natural laboratory” that “we must protect.”