Fred Hoyle

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Sir Fred Hoyle (June 24, 1915 in YorkshireAugust 20 in Bournemouth, England, 2001) was a British astronomer, notable for a number of his theories that run counter to current astronomical opinion, and a writer of science fiction, including a number of books co-authored by his son Geoffrey Hoyle. He spent most of his working life at the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge, and was director of the institute for a number of years.

Contribution to cosmogony

An early paper of his made an interesting use of the Anthropic Principle. In trying to work out the routes of stellar nucleosynthesis, he observed that one particular nuclear reaction, the Triple-alpha process, which generated carbon, would require the carbon nucleus to have a very specific energy for it to work. The large amount of carbon in the universe, which makes it possible for life to exist, demonstrated that this nuclear reaction must work. Based on this notion, he made a prediction of the energy levels in the carbon nucleus that was later borne out by experiment.

His co-worker William Fowler eventually won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1983 (with Subramanyan Chandrasekhar), but for some reason Hoyle’s original contribution was overlooked, and many were surprised that such a notable astronomer missed out. Fowler himself in an autobiographical sketch affirmed Hoyle’s pioneering efforts:

The grand concept of nucleosynthesis in stars was first definitely established by Hoyle in 1946.

Rejection of the big bang

While having no argument with the discovery of the expansion of the universe by Edwin Hubble, he disagreed on its interpretation: Hoyle (with Thomas Gold and Hermann Bondi, who he had worked with on radar in World War II) argued for the universe being in a "steady state", with the continuous creation of new matter driving the expansion of the universe, rather than the universe beginning and expanding explosively in a "Big Bang". Ironically, he is responsible for actually coining the term "Big Bang" in a BBC radio programme, The Nature of Things while criticising the theory; the text was published in 1950. Continuous creation offered no explanation for the appearance of new matter, other than postulating the existence of some sort of "creation field", but in itself was no more inexplicable than the appearance of the entire universe from nothing; in the end the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation led to the nearly unanimous acceptance by astronomers (Hoyle being one exception) of the Big Bang theory.

He did a series of radio talks on astronomy for the BBC in the 1950s; these were collected in the book The Nature of the Universe, and he went on to write a number of other popular science books. He wrote some science fiction; most interesting is The Black Cloud in which it transpires that most intelligent life in the universe takes the form of interstellar gas clouds, who are surprised that intelligent life can form on planets, and a television series A for Andromeda. In 1957 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and he was knighted in 1972.

Rejection of chemical evolution

In his later years, Hoyle became a staunch critic of theories of chemical evolution to explain the naturalistic Origin of life. With Chandra Wickramasinghe, Hoyle promoted the theory that life evolved in space, spreading through the universe via panspermia, and that evolution on earth is driven by a steady influx of viruses arriving via comets.

In his 1981/4 book Evolution from Space (co-authored with Chandra Wickramasinghe), he calculated that the chance of obtaining the required set of enzymes for even the simplest living cell was one in 1040,000. Since the number of atoms in the known universe is infinitesimally tiny by comparison (1080), he argued that even a whole universe full of primordial soup wouldn’t have a chance. He claimed:

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.

Hoyle infamously compared the random emergence of even the simplest cell to the likelihood that "a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein." Hoyle also compared the chance of obtaining even a single functioning protein by chance combination of amino acids to a solar system full of blind men solving Rubik's Cube simultaneously.

Biologists reject Hoyle's computations as straw men – they say that he is ignorant of biology and argues from absurd assumptions no biologist holds, to arrive at those numbers. For example, Hoyle's argument depends on evolution being entirely random, entirely ignoring the non-random effect of natural selection.

Other controversies

Further occasions on which Hoyle aroused controversy included his questioning the authenticity of fossil Archaeopteryx and his condemnation of the failure to include Jocelyn Burnell in the Nobel Prize award recognising the development of radio interferometry and its role in the discovery of pulsars. Hoyle played an important role in determining the nature of the pulsing radio signals (from the pulsar), but was also excluded from the prize. Hoyle had a famous heated argument with Martin Ryle of the Cavendish Radio Astronomy Group about Hoyle's Steady State Universe which somewhat restricted collaboration between the Cavendish Radio Astronomy Group and the Institute of Astronomy during the 1960s.

Honors

Awards

Named after him

Fiction works

Non-fiction works

  • Nicolaus Copernicus, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., London, p. 78, 1973
  • Astronomy and Cosmology: A Modern Course, 1975, ISBN 0716703513
  • Energy or Extinction? The case for nuclear energy, 1977, Heinemann Educational Books Limited, ISBN 0435544306. In this provocative book Hoyle establishes the dependence of Western civilisation on energy consumption and predicts that nuclear fission as a source of energy is essential for its survival.
  • The Intelligent Universe, 1983
  • Evolution from Space: A Theory of Cosmic Creationism, 1984, ISBN 0671492632
  • Burbidge, E.M., Burbidge, G.R., Fowler, W.A. and Hoyle, F., Synthesis of the Elements in Stars, Revs. Mod. Physics 29:547–650, 1957, the famous B2FH paper after their initials, for which Hoyle is most famous among professional cosmologists.
  • Hoyle, F., The big bang in astronomy, New Scientist 92(1280):527, November 19, 1981.
  • Arp, H.C., Burbidge, G., Hoyle, F., Narlikar, J.V. and Wickramasinghe, N.C., The extragalactic universe: an alternative view, Nature 346:807–812, August 30, 1990.
  • Home Is Where the Wind Blows: Chapters from a Cosmologist's Life (autobiography) Oxford University Press 1994, ISBN 0198500602

Further reading

  • Simon Mitton, Conflict in the Cosmos: Fred Hoyle's Life in Science, Joseph Henry Press, 2005, ISBN 0309093139 or, Fred Hoyle: a life in science, Aurum Press, 2005, ISBN 1854109618
  • Douglas Gough, editor, The Scientific Legacy of Fred Hoyle, Cambridge University Press, 2005, ISBN 0521824486
  • Chandra Wickramasinghe, A Journey with Fred Hoyle: The Search for Cosmic Life, World Scientific Publishing, 2005, ISBN 9812389121
  • Jane Gregory, Fred Hoyle's Universe, Oxford University Press, 2005, ISBN 0198507917

References

  • Ferguson, Kitty (1991). Stephen Hawking: Quest For A Theory of Everything. Franklin Watts. ISBN 0553-29895-X.

External links

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