by John Baruch

FRED Hoyle was arguably the most important astronomer of the last century after Albert Einstein.

He came from Gilstead and grew up on Primrose Lane next to the derelict Salts Mansion at Milnerfield. It was not derelict when he was growing up and in his early years he recalls being chased out of the grounds by the staff.

Fred missed a lot of school, playing around the fields and woods of Shipley Glen, Delph Wood and Robinson’s Farm. He eventually won a place at Bingley Grammar school, where he was lucky enough to have a headteacher, Alan Smailes, who not only inspired him but knew the Cambridge entrance system and groomed young Fred for entry into what was then the world leading scientific centre in many areas of physics.

One particular problem was to work out how the energy of the atom extracted to fuel the sun, and how that made all the elements. It was Fred who predicted how this would work and it was Fred who worked out that in the process of burning its atomic fuel the stars would make all the elements up to iron, and when the larger stars ended their lives in a gigantic explosion they would make all the other elements, including gold and uranium.

Our sun is not big enough to end its life in a gigantic supernova explosion but it is busily working away making the atoms of oxygen, carbon and atoms of the other elements that are not as big as iron, while keeping us warm. Fred's student, William Fowler, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983 and he admitted he was surprised that Fred was not included.

Fred was most famous for naming the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe. He did it in a radio programme while discussing another theory of the universe which he was developing, called the Steady State theory. This theory, as Fred put it forward, can't explain the universe as we now see it and the Big Bang theory is more satisfactory, but still there are little problems like why the universe is made up of matter and nowhere can we find antimatter. The Big Bang should have produced both. Another little problem is that we can weigh the big galaxies in the universe with their billions of stars by watching them spin around knowing that only gravity can hold them together. We then count up all the stars, planets, dust and gas that we can detect with our telescopes we find that we only know of about one twenty-fifth (four per cent) of the universe. The rest we have no real idea what it is, so there is still plenty of room for another Fred Hoyle to come and sort it all out.

Fred worked in many other areas of astronomy. He put forward the idea that the basis for life on Earth was brought to the Earth by comets and it was this idea that was one of the main reasons for a European Space Agency mission called Rossetta. Rosetta was launched in 2004 and arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on August 6, 2014. It is the first mission in history to rendezvous with a comet, escort it as it orbits the sun and sends a lander to its surface. Rosetta's Philae lander slowly drifted down to the surface of 67P, the comet is only about 2.5 miles across and so its gravity is very small. The grappling hook did not work and Phillae bounced over mile up above the comet twice before coming to rest and starting to take measurements. Unfortunately it landed in shadow without enough energy to power its solar cells and so we have not been able to decide conclusively whether Fred was right or not.

Fred was born in the year that Albert Einstein published his general theory of relativity. This is the theory which describes all the largest features of the universe. All over the world there have been events to celebrate Fred’s 100th anniversary and the centenary of the General Theory of Relativity. In Britain there was a dinner in Eldwick on Fred's birthday and a day of lectures at the Royal Astronomical Society on Piccadilly in London. At Fred’s old school, Bingley Grammar, on Thursday, November 19 there will be a day of celebration involving primary schools during the day and with public lectures in the Evening. Professor Wickramasinghe, Fred’s pupil, will be talking about modern ideas of life arriving on comets along with John Baruch of the Bradford Robotic Telescope talking about his cosmology and Professor David Jenkins from York University head of the Nuclear Astrophysics Group and Nicola Hoyle Fred’s grand-daughter who will talk about her memories of Fred.

* The lecture is free but tickets need to booked on (01274) 807703 during school hours.