Public Lectures for the Session 2001-2002 held in the Godlee Observatory, UMIST.
Delivered to the Manchester Astronomical Society

20th December 2001

''Georges E Lamaître and Cosmology''

Guy D Duckworth
Manchester Astronomical Society

Presidential Address


The Belgian cosmologist-priest, Georges Lemaître, (1894-1966) was a naturally gifted mathematician. At age 9 he wanted to become a scientist and a priest but it was not until after WWI, during which he served as an artilleryman, that he went to the University of Leuran in 1920 to study for his Doctorate. He was ordained as a priest in 1923 and the same year went to Cambridge University's solar physics laboratory to further his studies in theoretical cosmology. In 1925, at Eddington's suggestion, he joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where, in 1927, he linked his knowledge of Einstein's theories of relativity with the developing theories on the observable galactic red shifts proposed by Hubble, Slipher and Shapley. His proposal, published in the Monthly Notes of the RAS two years before Edwin Hubble and Milton Humason showed that the recession velocity of galaxies increased with distance, was that the universe had come into being from the disintegration of a primeval super-atom. This accounted for the expanding universe, cosmic rays and the microwave background radiation. He subsequently became known as the 'Father of the Big Bang'.

The president demonstrated Lemaître's position within a selected history of cosmology, together with both the Positivist and Thomism methods of enquiry, followed by a view as to why his work is difficult for amateur astronomers to follow: namely because it involves an advanced form of mathematics called the tensor calculus. Three alternative ways for amateurs to approach the subjects in question were suggested:

The first was simply to read the popular expositions like Prof. Hawking's, 'A Brief History of Time.

The second involved a practical approach. Here our attention was drawn to the Faulkes telescope project, where later in 2002, a pair of 2m robotic telescopes would become available to amateur astronomers, with the possibility of doing some kind of cosmological research like extragalactic supernova hunting.

The third approach was a metaphysical one, where the telescope or calculator is exchanged for the etymological dictionary and the ideas of great philosophers.

Synopsis by Kevin J. Kilburn (Secretary)


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