Gold, Thomas

Gold, Thomas
▪ 2005

      Austrian-born astronomer (b. May 22, 1920, Vienna, Austria—d. June 22, 2004, Ithaca, N.Y.), originated bold, unconventional theories in cosmology and other areas of science. Together with Hermann Bondi and Fred Hoyle, he formulated the steady-state theory of the universe, which holds that the universe exists without beginning or end and that, though the universe is expanding, it remains essentially constant because of a continual creation of matter throughout space. The steady-state theory gained many adherents following its introduction in 1948, but later astronomical observations provided strong evidence that the universe began at an initial event (the “big bang”). Among the confirmed or widely accepted scientific theories for which Gold became known were that pulsars are extremely dense bodies (neutron stars) that are rotating rapidly, that structures of the human inner ear function as amplifiers in distinguishing frequencies of sound, that the surface of the Moon is covered by a fine powder of pulverized rock, and that the stream of charged particles continually emitted by the Sun interacts with the Earth's magnetic field to form a shock wave. One of his most recent—and controversial—theories was that petroleum, natural gas, and coal are formed from hydrocarbon material that slowly rises from within the Earth, where it was trapped during the Earth's formation. In The Deep Hot Biosphere (1999), Gold proposed that this material supports primitive thermophilic (heat-loving) bacteria living in rock pores deep inside the Earth's crust. Gold studied at Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., 1942; M.Sc., 1946); he eventually received his doctorate from Cambridge in 1969. During World War II he helped develop radar for the British Admiralty. In 1956 he left the staff of the Royal Greenwich Observatory to take a position as a professor of astronomy at Harvard University. In 1959 he became a professor of astronomy at Cornell University, Ithaca, where he served as the director (1959–81) of the university's Center for Radiophysics and Space Research. He retired in 1987. Gold was a fellow of the Royal Society and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

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▪ British astronomer
born May 22, 1920, Vienna, Austria
died June 22, 2004, Ithaca, New York, U.S.

      Austrian-born British astronomer who promulgated the steady-state theory of the universe, holding that, although the universe is expanding, a continuous creation of matter in intergalactic space is gradually forming new galaxies, so that the average number of galaxies in any part of the universe remains approximately the same. Many of Gold's theories were unconventional, and they often generated much controversy.

      Gold studied at Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., 1942; M.Sc., 1946), and during World War II served in the British Admiralty. He was elected a fellow of Trinity College in 1947 and became university demonstrator in physics in 1949 at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge. During the late 1940s, in collaboration with Hermann Bondi (Bondi, Sir Hermann) and Fred Hoyle (Hoyle, Sir Fred), Gold formulated the steady-state theory, of which Hoyle became the leading proponent. Later evidence, however, contradicted this theory and instead supported the big-bang model.

      In 1952 Gold joined the staff of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, London. Five years later he became professor of astronomy at Harvard University. There he worked on the maser (microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) amplifier for use with radio telescopes. In 1959 he joined the faculty of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, as professor of astronomy. He served as director of the Center for Radiophysics and Space Research from 1959 to 1981. An early supporter of space exploration, Gold contributed significant theories and conjectures on the structure of the Moon, on the effect of solar flares and storms on the Earth's atmosphere, and on the origin of the solar system and of life. He served as a consultant to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and in the 1960s advised on the organization's Apollo program. In the 1970s Gold began concentrating on the world's energy supply. He generated much criticism with his theory that oil and natural gas are continually being formed through geologic processes and are not, as is commonly believed, created by decaying natural matter. The theory, which he outlined in The Deep Hot Biosphere (1999), remains unproven.

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