Fred Hoyle, astronomer and science fiction writer, dies

 

The astronomer and science-fiction writer Prof Sir Fred Hoyle has died aged 86. Best known for his book A for Andromeda, and for outraging his fellow scholars, Prof Hoyle was widely regarded as Britain's best known astronomer in pre-Stephen Hawking days.

He became Britain's best-known astronomer in 1950 with his broadcast lectures on "The Nature of the Universe", during which he aired his objections to many conventional cosmological theories. He famously challenged the belief that a huge explosion 12,000 million years ago caused the cosmos, referring to the theory dismissively as the "Big Bang".

He picked up a string of awards for his work, and served for a period as president of the Royal Astronomical Society. But he also provoked amazement among scientists for his work with Prof Chandra Wickramasinghe, claiming that Darwin's theory of evolution was wrong and that influenza epidemics came from space.

Confirming Prof Hoyle's death yesterday, Prof Wickramasinghe, head of mathematics at University College, Wales, in Cardiff, paid tribute to a "distinguished" scientist. "He has changed the way that we think of the universe more profoundly than any other astronomer in the last century."

Born on June 24th, 1915, at Bingley in Yorkshire, Prof Hoyle 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. By 1957 he was a Fellow of the Royal Society and knighted in 1972. He also served as president of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1971 to 1973.

Among his many awards he collected the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. But Hoyle also crossed the boundary between fact and fiction, penning the classic A for Andromeda in 1962, which was turned into a television series, and The Black Cloud, published in 1957. Most recently he had served with Prof Wickramasinghe as an honorary professor at the University College, Wales, within the applied mathematics and astronomy department.