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‘The Wildest Speculation of All’: Lemaître and the Primeval-Atom Universe

Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Library book series (ASSL,volume 395)

Abstract

Although there is no logical connection between the expanding universe and the idea of a big bang, from a historical perspective the two concepts were intimately connected. Four years after his pioneering work on the expanding universe, Lemaître suggested that the entire universe had originated in a kind of explosive act from what he called a primeval atom and which he likened to a huge atomic nucleus. His theory of 1931 was the first realistic finite-age model based upon relativistic cosmology, but it presupposed a material proto-universe and thus avoided an initial singularity. What were the sources of Lemaître’s daring proposal? Well aware that his new cosmological model needed to have testable consequences, he argued that the cosmic rays were fossils of the original radioactive explosion. However, this hypothesis turned out to be untenable. The first big-bang model ever was received with a mixture of indifference and hostility. Why? The answer is not that contemporary cosmologists failed to recognize Lemaître’s genius, but rather that his model was scientifically unconvincing. Although Lemaître was indeed the father of big-bang cosmology, his brilliant idea was only turned into a viable cosmological theory by later physicists.

Keywords

  • Cosmological Constant
  • Initial Singularity
  • Closed Universe
  • Relativistic Cosmology
  • Cosmological Theory

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Correspondence to Helge Kragh .

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Kragh, H. (2012). ‘The Wildest Speculation of All’: Lemaître and the Primeval-Atom Universe. In: Holder, R., Mitton, S. (eds) Georges Lemaître: Life, Science and Legacy. Astrophysics and Space Science Library, vol 395. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-32254-9_3

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