An emeritus professor at the University of Geneva, Mayor, together with assistant Didier Queloz, discovered the first extrasolar planet (exoplanet) orbiting a sun-like star in 1995.
Since then around 1,050 exoplanets have been found, most of them are “super-earths” the size of Jupiter, but Mayor and his team at the Observatory of Geneva discovered one earlier this year that is close to earth’s density and size.
Although Kepler-78 is too hot to support life, its discovery demonstrated that it is possible to find planets like earth in a temperate zone around its star.
Mayor, 71, told Nature that he expects such a planet could be found within the next five years.
Before he truly retires, he told the magazine, “I hope to have the possibility to celebrate this discovery”. His latest find, made with a high-tech "planet searcher" spectrograph that he helped develop, was judged significant enough to put him among the British scientific journal’s list of “ten people who mattered”.
Other scientists honoured in the list include Henry Snaith, a physicist from the University of Oxford, whose team has developed a more efficient solar energy cell, and Chinese scientist Hualan Chen, credited for leading a lab which successfully battled a new strain of avian flu.
Russian meteorite specialist Viktor Groghovsky was singled out for leading research into the recovery of fragments from a bus-sized asteroid that broke up over Chelyabinsk, Russia.
And Tania Simoncelli was listed for her role in the fight, as a US science policy adviser with the American Civil Liberties Union, to prevent patenting of human genes by successfully challenging the issue all the way to the US Supreme Court.
Nature’s top 10 list honours scientists not only for their scientific contributions but, in the case of American anthropologist Kathryn Clancy, for her social engagement.
Clancy, from the University of Illinois, was praised for her work in researching and reporting on cases of sexual harassment and abuse of researchers in the workplace.
As a result of her work, the American Anthropological Association adopted a no-tolerance policy for harassment. Fore more on Nature’s list, check here.