Only in the last century did scientists really begin to understand the physics of the universe. Putting eyes to telescopes and pencils to paper, 20th century observers and theorists were the first to grasp the vastness of space and glimpse the diversity of its contents.

Today’s scholars of the nighttime sky tell a story of a universe incomprehensibly huge. Once misjudged to be a fixed sphere of stars encircling the sun and planets, the cosmos is now a ballooning expanse of space populated by billions and billions of galaxies, each containing billions and billions of stars. Astronomical explorers seek answers to several deep questions about the nature of space, the astrophysical objects it contains, and the universe’s composition, history and future. Guiding this quest are the 20th century’s grandest theoretical accomplishments: quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The Kavli Prizes recognize those scientists who are pioneering our efforts to understand not only the universe, but our very existence.