I was watching a documentary on Einstein and learned that General Relativity never won a Nobel Prize. I recently chose to go back to school for astronomy but now I'm feeling like if the greatest scientific discovery in history never won a Nobel Prize, what chance to I have?
Interesting, I'm actually considering the same thing. More as a hobby and way of standing behind the one thing I'm so passionate about, because $$ and astronomy, or even realistic careers and astronomy, don't exactly go hand in hand. I simply find it so infuriating that life almost certainly exists on either Europa or Titan, the latter requiring only $300 million to explore, and we don't do it. Geez, these Hollywood movies coming out every damn week now cost almost as much as a mission to answer are we alone?
Bill Gates sends how many billions to Africa, most certainly a noble cause, but doesn't support our ascension as a species and planet. Unmanned probes that could answer the most fundamental questions of the universe wouldn't dent his bank account, he's a fellow geek/nerd/sciency guy, and yet where's his passion for science in astronomy? It seems the rich folk pushing astronomy aren't the intellectual inquisitives, but the adventurous glory hounds like Branson.
Long as I live, I will never understand why astronomy isn't only of no interest to people, but often viewed with derision - 'What we be sending alls our moneys up into them thar space for? We needs that moneys here, I wants my moneys!'
Then again, look no further than the current golden boy of public astronomy. He's actually the reason I popped in here again, watching the Europa Report just now On demand and saw a clip of him that was appalling. From Carl Sagan to Neil Tyson explains a lot. Sagan was a genius who related difficult concepts to average folks with ease and wit. Tyson? I'm sorry, the more I see the more I think he's an absolute idiot who only harms the astronomy cause. Case in point, that Europa Report clip that was taken from statements he made years prior totally unrelated to the film? Something about, "I want to go ice fishing on Europa, take one of the fish and kiss it on its lips."
Holy God. Making idiot comments like 'Going ice fishing on Europa' doesn't aid astronomy or make it more relatable to the average joe. It does, however, bring astronomy down to the idiot buffoon's level, rather than attempting to raise the masses up to fathom and get excited about space like Sagan did. You know what you say about Europa to get the public's attention and stoke demand for a mission there? One thing - just one simple thing, and it ain't ice fishing and kissing Europan fish on the lips. It's "Europa has a global ocean of liquid water mile deep. Every single planet we have explored with liquid water has life. As such, Europa is guaranteed to harbor complex life based on available evidence, until we know that it doesn't." Boom goes the dynamite. It's sensationalist enough, appealling to Joe Public, while remaining completely true and conveying the same idea behind Tyson's dumb quote.
Hell, Tyson is a proud advocate for demoting Pluto, a ridiculous and pathetic action which did more to harm astronony's reputation among the masses than anything else in modern history. It was ridiculed, the scientific community was ridiculed for it, the infighting harmed the reputation of astronomers, and it turned off many a person who learned in school of nine planets - all for no logical reason other than they could do it, so they did do it.
Tyson's comments in the aftermath, "It happened, get over it. I hear there are Pluto counselors out there for you." Tyson is the George Bush of astronomy, charismatic and affable, plenty of quips and quotes, but brings things down instead of raising others up, and equally arrogant as W. So in a sense Tyson is the perfect mouthpiece for the state of modern space exploration, shambles that it's in. Astronomy's present and future are depressing enough alone. To imagine that Mr. Ice Fishing on Europa and 'Cry-baby Plutoids' is the heir to a line which began with Einstein and continued with Sagan is enough to make a space geek suicidal.
In regards to relativity and the Nobel, it's not quite as bad as you say/think. First, relativity was somewhat up in the air. The committee specifically stated something about waiting for future confirmation. Relativity was also quite a difficult concept a the time - it still is - and only truly became what we know it is today as a result of the atomic bomb. Also add in Einstein's uncertainty, eventually calling the cosmological constant his biggest blunder, which actually turned out to be correct? There are legitimate reasons beyond being snubbed, whether on principle or due to antisemitism at the time. He was awarded a Nobel prize for his work explaining the concept of the photoelectric effect/photons, which I believe is arguably more fundamental to physics than general relativity, especially at the time when relativity wasn't what it is today.
Relativity is amazing in so many ways, but the photoelectric effect is more basic with more real-world implications. In that sense relativity was ahead of its time, whereas the photoelectric effect was right on cue. He should have received two Nobels, but if he was to receive only one considering all the variables at play, I strongly believe he received it for the right work. I'm sorry, I appreciate relativity for what it is, but conceiving of photons as the carrier of the electromagnetic force... that's just so incredibly basic, so vital to physics... never mind relativity building on precisely that. No photons, no Einstein coming up with General Relativity. We all herald Einstein and his work with relativity, but then think about everything you learned about photons, how fundamental they are to physics and the dynamics of the universe, I think one would have a hard time saying Einstein should have won for relativity over
photons as the carriers of the electromagnetic force.
Now maybe you can make right a wrong - tie general relativity with quantum theory, the 'theory of everything', and I'll bet the farm you can win a Nobel for concepts grounded in relativity. So take heart, and get to work already!