The big bang is one of those theories that even the most casual student of science finds familiar and, at least at face value, is fairly easy to understand: we know the universe is expanding out in all directions, and some physicists figure there must have been a point when that whole thing started. All the matter in existence was packed up into a tiny, hot, dense little nugget, and then suddenly it wasn’t. Bang went the universe, and it’s been growing ever since. So it might surprise you to learn that the name of this popular origin story came from a guy who thought the whole idea was total nonsense. It all started on March 28, 1949, when physicist Fred Hoyle got on a BBC broadcast to discuss his own ideas about how the universe began—namely, that it didn’t actually begin. Hoyle didn’t think the universe had an exact starting point, and he championed what’s widely known as the steady state model: the notion that the universe is constantly making new matter everywhere, all the time, even if you stretch backward in time for infinity. “He emphasized the contrast between the Steady State theory and ‘the hypothesis that all matter of the universe was created in one big bang at a particular time in the remote past,’” historian Helge Kragh explained in the April 2013 edition of Astronomy & Geophysics, “which he found to be ‘irrational’ and outside science.” This is widely accepted as the first use of the term big bang to describe the theory, and it almost certainly brought the phrase into popular use; the BBC circulated that first talk and several others featuring the new lingo in print and on the radio (though there was a bit of a gap before it really took off—science papers didn’t start using it regularly until the ‘60s, and it took a couple decades more for "the big bang" to become the preferred term amongst astronomers). But for the record, Kragh argued in his 2013 article that Hoyle didn’t use the phrase derisively—he was staunchly opposed to the big bang theory, but the name wasn’t necessarily intended to mock it. He just thought it was an apt description for the explosive idea, and that it highlighted the way in which it differed from the theory he championed. Read More: Popular Science
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