Thomas Gold and the Steady-State Theory


9 year WMAP image of the cosmic microwave background radiation

On May 22, 1920, Austrian-born American astrophysicist Thomas Gold was born. Gold was one of three young Cambridge scientists who in the 1950s proposed the now mostly abandoned ‘steady state‘ hypothesis of the universe. His work crossed academic and scientific boundaries, into biophysics, astronomy, aerospace engineering, and geophysics.

Thomas Gold and his family traveled through Europe a lot during his childhood, mostly because of the political situation. He was educated in Switzerland first and then entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1939. There he began studying mechanical science. however, Thomas Gold was sent to an internment in a camp in Canada for about 15 months. Afterwards, he returned to Cambridge and evoted his professional time to physics. He started working as a agricultural laborer and lumberjack in northern England before joining Hermann Bondi and Fred Hoyle on naval research into radar ground clutter near Dunsfold, Surrey.[3,4]

Later, Gold was placed in charge of constructing new radar systems and determined how landing craft could use radar to navigate to the appropriate landing spot on D-Day. He also discovered that the German navy had fitted snorkels to its U-boats, making them operable underwater while still taking in air from above the surface. After the war, Thomas Gold began working at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory to help construct the world’s largest magnetron. He also studied the effect of resonance on the human ear.

Thomas Gold, Austrian astrophysicist and astronomer (1920-2004)

Thomas Gold, Austrian astrophysicist and astronomer (1920-2004)

Together with Hoyle and Bondi, Thomas Gold began discussing issued over redshift and Hubble’s law. They started questioning the Big Bang Theory, which suggested that the universe expanded from an extremely dense and hot state and continues to expand today. Gold however explained that there was reason to think that the creation of matter was “done all the time and then none of the problems about fleeting moments arise. It can be just in a steady state with the expansion taking things apart as fast as new matter comes into being and condenses into new galaxies“.

The scientists published several scientific works on the matter. They proposed the perfect cosmological principle as the underpinning of their theory, which held that the universe is homogeneous and isotropic in space and time. On the large scale, they argued that there “is nothing outstanding about any place in the universe, and that those differences which do exist are only of local significance; that seen on a large scale the universe is homogeneous.”

However, since the universe was not characterized by a lack of evolution, distinguishing features or recognizable direction of time, they postulated that there had to be large-scale motions in the universe. They highlighted two possible types of motion: large-scale expansion and its reverse, large-scale contraction. They estimated that the creation of matter would keep the density of the universe constant as it expanded. Gold and Bondi also stated that the issues with time scale that had plagued other cosmological theories – such as the discrepancy between the age of the universe as calculated by Hubble and dating of radioactive decay in terrestrial rocks – were absent for the Steady State theory.[5]

In 1968/69 Gold also was the first physicist to suspect that neutron stars rotating behind pulsars were his most famous discovery. At first, however, a conference rejected his lecture as so absurd that it was not even considered worth discussing. Since many of Gold’s theses were initially hostile to experts, he developed a critical attitude towards the scientific peer review system, behind which he saw a “herd instinct”. Instead, he proposed a “science court”, which would be staffed with scientists from different disciplines and yet would still have sufficient expertise to be able to assess a topic in question from different perspectives. In 1960 Thomas Gold established the “Cosmic Garbage” theory. In it he ventilated the possibility that extraterrestrial space travelers may have visited Earth a long time ago and unintentionally brought life to Earth with their leftover waste.

The problems with the Steady State theory began to emerge around the 1960s. Observations supported the idea of a constantly changing universe. It is believed that most refutation of the steady-state theory came with the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation in 1965, which was predicted by the Big Bang theory. Hermann Bondi then began to admit that the theory had been disproved, but Hoyle and Gold remained unconvinced for a number of years.

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