The Shaw Prize in Astronomy for 2008 is awarded to Professor Reinhard Genzel, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, in recognition of his outstanding contribution in demonstrating that the Milky Way contains a supermassive black hole at its centre.

In 1969, Donald Lynden-Bell and Martin Rees suggested that the Milky Way might contain a supermassive black hole. But evidence for such an object was lacking at the time because the centre of the Milky Way is obscured by interstellar dust, and was detected only as a relatively faint radio source. Reinhard Genzel obtained compelling evidence for this conjecture by developing state-of-the-art astronomical instruments and carrying out a persistent programme of observing our Galactic Centre for many years, which ultimately led to the discovery of a black hole with a mass a few million times that of the Sun, in the centre of the Milky Way.

Supermassive black holes are now recognized to account for the luminous sources seen at the nuclei of galaxies and to play a fundamental role in the formation of galaxies.


Astronomy Selection Committee
The Shaw Prize

10 June 2008, Hong Kong