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Fred Hoyle, astronomer, cosmologist and author (1915 - 2001)

23 August 2001

Professor Sir Fred Hoyle, astronomer, cosmologist and science author has died at the age of 86. Although best known as a supporter of the Steady State theory of the Universe, and a determined opponent of the commonly accepted Big Bang theory, Hoyle also received international acclaim for his original work on stars, galaxies, gravity and the origin of atoms.

Despite coining the term 'Big Bang' to describe the theory that the cosmos was created by a huge explosion 12 000 million years ago, Hoyle refused to accept its authenticity. Instead, he advocated that the Universe had no beginning, and that new galaxies formed in the gaps as others moved apart. In spite of observational evidence to the contrary, he continued to attack the Big Bang theory, and recently presented a robust defence of a compromise 'quasi-steady state' Universe in A Different Approach to Cosmology (2000).

Less publicised but just as significant were his contributions to the development of modern ideas on the physics of stars and galaxies. One of his outstanding contributions involved the discovery that the elements which make up ourselves, the Earth and the entire visible Universe were forged from nuclear reactions inside distant stars. This theory of 'nucleogenesis', on which he collaborated with Margaret Burbidge, Geoffrey Burbidge and William Fowler, recognised that hydrogen was the building block from which atoms such as silicon, carbon and iron were created. (Fowler received the Nobel Prize in 1983 for this work.)

Much of Hoyle's scientific career was conducted from Cambridge University, England, where he was Plumian Professor of Astronomy from 1958 until 1972. In 1966 he founded the renowned Institute of Theoretical Astronomy at Cambridge. He also participated in many fruitful collaborations with colleagues abroad.

During his lifetime, Professor Hoyle received many honours from learned societies and international bodies, including the Royal Medal of the Royal Society, the United Nations Kalinga Prize and the Crafoord Prize awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Last Update: 10 June 2003

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