Geoffrey Burbidge (1925-2010)

I’m apparently over a month late with this, but I just found out that radical cosmologist Geoffrey Burbidge passed away in late January.  Burbidge was a confidant of the late Sir Fred Hoyle and a proponent of the quasi-steady state model of the universe.  He is perhaps best known for a work he co-authored with Hoyle, his wife Margaret, and William Fowler – referred to as the B2FH paper – that established how heavier elements are formed through stellar nucleosynthesis.  Since my PhD thesis was on another radical cosmologist (Eddington), and I’ve written a paper or two on alternative cosmological theories (mainly Dirac’s and Milne’s), I spent some time looking at the steady-state models.  The funniest anecdote that I heard concerning these steady-state models involved Hoyle.  Hoyle was an ardent atheist and, so the story goes, when the Pope endorsed the “Big Bang” theory as being consistent with Christian theology (since most prior cosmological models were steady-state), he just couldn’t bring himself to accept something endorsed by the Pope and so he went on developing a steady-state theory (or quasi-steady-state theory as it became known since they had to modify it given the overwhelming physical evidence of expansion).

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