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Wednesday, 22 August, 2001, 08:56 GMT 09:56 UK
'Big bang' astronomer dies
Professor Sir Fred Hoyle BBC
Sir Fred challenged mainstream opinion
The English astronomer who coined the term "Big Bang" to describe an academic theory on the creation of the cosmos, has died at the age of 86.

Despite popularising the theory by giving it a name, Professor Sir Fred Hoyle challenged the belief that the cosmos was caused by a huge explosion about 12,000 million years ago.

He advocated the "steady state" theory - that the cosmos had no beginning but new galaxies were formed as others moved apart.

Sir Fred also put forward the so-called Panspermia Theory, which suggests that life, or the building blocks of life, could be carried to planets by comets or drifting interstellar dust particles.

Julie Christie in A for Andromeda BBC
Sir Fred wrote A For Andromeda, which became a BBC-TV series starring Julie Christie
He believed it had all been arranged by a super-intelligent civilisation who wished to seed our planet.

Sir Fred - an honorary professor at the University of Wales, Cardiff, at the time of his death - used this theory as the inspiration for one of his many science fiction novels, The Black Cloud.

Published in 1957, it described an intelligent cloud of cosmic dust sapping the Sun of solar energy to create a second Ice Age on Earth.

In 1962, Sir Fred wrote A For Andromeda, which became a BBC-TV series, and his play for children, Rockets In Ursa Major, opened in the West End.

Star gazing

Born at Bingley in the West Riding of Yorkshire to wool merchant parents, he could navigate by the stars at the age of 10 and often stayed up all night gazing through his telescope.

Sir Fred was educated at Bingley grammar school and Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he studied mathematics.

In 1939, he was elected a fellow of St John's College, Cambridge, and married Barbara Clark.

They had a son and a daughter.

Conducted research

During World War II, Sir Fred conducted research for the Admiralty.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1957 and knighted in 1972.

Sir Fred founded the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge, where he was Plumian Professor of Astronomy from 1958 until 1972.

He also served as president of the Royal Astronomical Society for two years from 1971.

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Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe
"I think he had changed the way we think of the Universe more profoundly than any scientist in the last 100 years"
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