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Fred Hoyle

Born: June 24, 1915, in Gilstead, Yorkshire, UK
Died: August 20, 2001, in Bournemouth, UK

Sir Fred Hoyle, FRS, was a British astronomer and science-fiction author. A graduate of Cambridge University, he worked for most of his life at the Institute of Astronomy, in Cambridge, and was its director for a number of years.

On March 28, 1949, while speaking on BBC Radio on how the universe came into being, he used the phrase ‘big bang’ to describe the expanding universe theory, first proposed by Monseigneur Georges Henri Lemaître in 1927, and then by Edwin Hubble in 1929.

Hoyle rejected this theory, believing that the universe was eternal and in a 'steady state'. Although the universe was expanding, he argued that matter was at the same time being created to fill the gaps between galaxies, in a manner similar to a river – even though the water is perceived to be flowing away (from the observer), it is constantly being replenished, and the overall river remains the same.

However, Hoyle’s Steady State theory did not find much support. Indeed, the theory became discredited in the 1960s when the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation provided proof of the Big Bang.

Hoyle’s greatest contribution to astronomy came in the 1950s when, together with William Alfred Fowler, Margaret Burbidge and Geoffrey Burbidge, he developed the theory of Stellar Nucleosynthesis. As William Fowler later explained:

“The concept of nucleosynthesis in stars was first established by Hoyle in 1946. This provided a way to explain the existence of elements heavier than helium in the universe, basically by showing that critical elements such as carbon could be generated in stars, and then incorporated in other stars and planets when the original stars ‘die’. The new stars formed now start off with these heavier elements, and even heavier elements are formed from them. Hoyle theorized that other rarer elements could be explained by supernovas, the giant explosions which occasionally occur throughout the universe, whose temperatures and pressures would be required to create such elements.”

In his later years, Hoyle became an ardent critic of Abiogenesis, the theory used to explain the origin of life on Earth. With Chandra Wickramasignhe, Hoyle theorized that life first evolved elsewhere in space, and via Panspermia, was spread throughout the universe and eventually to Earth, by comets.

Fred Hoyle

In his 1981 book, Evolution From Space, co-authored with Wickramasignhe, Hoyle argued that the chance of enzymes randomly evolving on Earth to create even the simplest living cells was about one in 10 to the power of 40,000.

“The notion that not only the biopolymer but the operating program of a living cell could be arrived at by chance in a primordial organic soup here on the Earth is evidently nonsense of a high order.”

However, supporters of modern evolutionary theory who oppose panspermia refer to this theory as Hoyle’s Fallacy. Nevertheless, the notion that some of the building blocks of life could have been deposited on Earth by comets has not been completely rejected.