Fred Hoyle

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Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) was a British astronomer, notable for a number of his theories that run counter to current astronomical opinion.

An early paper of his made an interesting use of the Anthropic Principle. In trying to work out the routes of nucleosynthesis in stars, he observed that one particular nuclear reaction, that 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.

While having no argument with the discovery of the expansion of the universe by Edwin Hubble, he disagreed on its interpretation; he 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 one of his papers criticising the theory. Continuous creation offered no explanation for the appearance of new matter, but in itself was no more inexplicable than the appearance of the entire universe itself 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 "Tha Nature of the Universe", and he went on to do 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.

In his later years, with Chandra Wickramasinghe, he 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.

He died on August 20, 2001.