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Features: Faculty Insights


Congratulations to Douglas Gough, Emeritus Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics in DAMTP and the Institute of Astronomy, on the award of the 2024 Crafoord Prize in Astronomy. The prize recognises his pioneering work in developing our understanding of the interior of the Sun and other stars.

The Crafoord Prize is among the world's most prestigious science prizes. It is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in partnership with the Crafoord Foundation, to honour achievements in disciplines which have been chosen to complement the Nobel Prizes.

The Crafoord Prize in Astronomy 2024 is awarded to Douglas Gough (University of Cambridge, UK), Jørgen Christensen-Dalsgaard (Aarhus University, Denmark), and Conny Aerts (KU Leuven, Belgium), for 'developing the methods of asteroseismology and their application to the study of the interior of the Sun and of other stars'.

Investigating inside the Sun

Seismologists learn about the interior of the Earth by studying how it shakes during earthquakes. The three laureates have discovered that similar methods can also be used in astronomy. Asteroseismology investigates the interior of the Sun and stars by studying movements on their surfaces, caused by internal oscillations that are similar to soundwaves.

When Douglas Gough began his theoretical work, he focused on the Sun, and soon started working with his then PhD student, Jørgen Christensen-Dalsgaard, pioneering the field of helioseismology. With hundreds of other researchers they established a network called the GONG telescopes. This resulted in entirely new discoveries, such as how the interior of the Sun rotates differently to its outer layer.

Conny Aerts used the same method to learn more about distant stars. Thanks to this new technology, researchers are now able to measure the radius of stars and the composition of their interiors and to give them a more precise age.

Answering an iconic question

In an interview with Churchill College, where he is a Fellow, Gough reflected on how he learned of the award: "I received a phone call out of the blue late one mid-January afternoon from the President of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences telling me that I had been awarded the Crafoord Prize. I was both stunned and elated."

Bengt Gustafsson, Professor Emeritus of Theoretical Astrophysics at Uppsala University, and a member of the Crafoord Prize committee, celebrated the work of Douglas Gough and his fellow laureates in giving insights into fundamental questions about the Sun and other stars. Referencing the words of an iconic nursery rhyme: 'Twinkle, twinkle little star / How I wonder what you are?', Gustafsson said:

"By establishing an entirely new field of research, the laureates have given us the ability to answer the nursery rhyme's question. We can learn more about the stars' structure and rotation, as well as about the history of the Milky Way."

Discover more about the 2024 Crafoord Prize winners' work in the video below.




This article is adapted from the Crafoord Prize announcement released by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.