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Fred Hoyle – Astronomer Extraordinaire

Posted on June 19th, 2008

Fred Hoyle (1915-2001), also addressed as Sir Fred Hoyle, was one of the more famous astronomers and scientists of the 20th Century. He often took controversial positions on cosmological theories, and is famous for coining the phrase “the Big Bang theory” in connection with his rejection of that hypothesis.

Fred Hoyle was born in Gilstead, West Yorkshire, England. His father, George Hoyle, worked in the wool trade and his mother, Mabel Pickard, had studied music at the Royal College of Music in London. Hoyle was educated at Bingley Grammar School and read mathematics at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

Hoyle spent most of his working life at the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge and served as its director for a number of years. He died in Bournemouth, England in 2001, after a series of strokes.

In addition to his work as an astronomer, Hoyle was a published writer of science fiction, including several co-authored with his son, Geoffrey Hoyle. Among his fictional books were A for Andromeda, The Black Cloud, and several others.

Hoyle was reportedly an atheist during most of his early life, but became agnostic when he found that he could not feel comfortable trying to explain the finer workings of physics and the Universe as simply “an accident.”

Editor’s Notes: Evidence would indicate that Sir Fred Hoyle would be considered a member of the British branch of families that carry the Hoyle surname.

Although Hoyle coined the phrase “Big Bang Theory,” he often explained his use of the term as a way to best describe the theory that was then (and still is) in vogue. He explained that he agreed that the Universe is growing outward and its bodies are moving away from each other, but he disagreed that all of mass and energy could have been generated by a single over-energized atomic particle.

Hoyle proposed several theories of his own to explain the functions of the Universe. While many are still used to explain certain aspects of the motion of bodies and time/space relationships, other theories of his have been discounted and in some cases rejected by later generations of scientists.

For his contributions to astronomy and science in general, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1957 and was knighted in 1972. Although he won many distinguished prizes and honors, he was overlooked for a Nobel Prize that was awarded to a co-worker of his for a project that both had contributed to. It was thought that Hoyle’s frequent criticism of current accepted theories made him somewhat unpopular amongst some of his peers, and may have injured his reputation somewhat.

As one reviewer of Fred Hoyle’s 1994 autobiography (Home Is Where the Wind Blows: Chapters from a Cosmologist’s Life ) described him, “[Fred] Hoyle so distinguished himself at Cambridge for his mathematical prowess that he was subsequently awarded a high place within the British scientific establishment…But it was Hoyle’s willingness to stand apart from the scientific establishment, his intellectual daring, that enabled him to fathom supernovas and to predict the existence of quasars.”

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