Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Vote to rename law to Hubble-Lemaitre Law

Astronomers have long credited Hubble for discovering the expansion of the universe, even tho he had little to do with it.

If they can decide that Pluto is not a planet, then they can correct this error. Now they will vote on it:
Astronomers are engaged in a lively debate over plans to rename one of the laws of physics.

It emerged overnight at the 30th Meeting of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), in Vienna, where members of the general assembly considered a resolution on amending the name of the Hubble Law to the Hubble-Lemaître Law.

The resolution aims to credit the work of the Belgian astronomer Georges Lemaître and his contribution—along with the American astronomer Edwin Hubble — to our understanding of the expansion of the universe.

While most (but not all) members at the meeting were in favor of the resolution, a decision allowed all members of the International Astronomical Union a chance to vote. Subsequently, voting was downgraded to a straw vote and the resolution will formally be voted on by an electronic vote at a later date.
As the article explains, the Belgian Catholic priest published both the theory and the experimental evidence for it, before Hubble had a clue. Hubble did later publish some data confirming Lemaitre's paper as he had a better telescope, but the data was very crude and not really much better.

It is an amusing historical fact that Einstein, Eddington, and other leading cosmologists clung to the idea of a steady-state universe, while a Catholic priest and Vatican astronomers led the way to convincing everyone that the universe had a beginning in what is now called the Big Bang.
But Hubble was not the first. In 1927, Georges Lemaître had already published an article on the expansion of the universe. His article was written in French and published in a Belgian journal.

Lemaître presented a theoretical foundation for the expansion of the universe and used the astronomical data (the very same data that Hubble used in his 1929 article) to infer the rate at which the universe is expanding.

In 1928, the American mathematician and physicist Howard Robertson also published an article in Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, where he derived the formula for the expansion of the universe and inferred the rate of expansion from the same data that were used by Lemaître (a year before) and Hubble (a year after). ...

In January 1930 at the meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in London, the English astronomer, physicist, and mathematician Arthur Eddington raised the problem of the expansion of the universe and the lack of any theory that would satisfactory explain this phenomenon.

When Lemaître found about this, he wrote to Eddington to remind him about his 1927 paper, where he laid theoretical foundation for the expansion of the universe.
It should be called the Lemaitre Law, or maybe the Lemaitre-Robertson Law, if you want to give an American some credit.


  1. Sigh... It's still going to be called the 'Hubble law', as hyphenated names are a waste of time and memory.
    If scientists have time to sit around and vote on pointless name changes, they need the inspiration of a pink slip to be more productive.

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