Georges Lemaître bigraphy, stories - astronomer, honorary prelate, priest, physics professor

Georges Lemaître : biography

17 July 1894 - 20 June 1966

Monseigneur Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître, ( 17 July 1894 – 20 June 1966) was a Belgian priest, astronomer and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Louvain. He was the first person to propose the theory of the expansion of the Universe, widely misattributed to Edwin Hubble. He was also the first to derive what is now known as Hubble's law and made the first estimation of what is now called the Hubble constant, which he published in 1927, two years before Hubble's article.Sidney van den Bergh 6 Jun 2011 [physics.hist-ph]David L. Block 20 Jun 2011 & 8 Jul 2011 [physics.hist-ph]Eugenie Samuel Reich Lemaître also proposed what became known as the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe, which he called his 'hypothesis of the primeval atom'.


According to the [[Big Bang theory, the universe emerged from an extremely dense and hot state (singularity). Space itself has been expanding ever since, carrying galaxies with it, like raisins in a rising loaf of bread. The graphic scheme above is an artist's conception illustrating the expansion of a portion of a flat universe.]] After a classical education at a Jesuit secondary school (Collège du Sacré-Coeur, Charleroi), Lemaître began studying civil engineering at the Catholic University of Leuven at the age of 17. In 1914, he interrupted his studies to serve as an artillery officer in the Belgian army for the duration of World War I. At the end of hostilities, he received the Belgian War Cross with palms.

After the war, he studied physics and mathematics, and began to prepare for priesthood. He obtained his doctorate in 1920 with a thesis entitled l'Approximation des fonctions de plusieurs variables réelles (Approximation of functions of several real variables), written under the direction of Charles de la Vallée-Poussin. He was ordained a priest in 1923.

In 1923, he became a graduate student in astronomy at the University of Cambridge, spending a year at St Edmund's House (now St Edmund's College, Cambridge). He worked with Arthur Eddington who initiated him into modern cosmology, stellar astronomy, and numerical analysis. He spent the following year at Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts with Harlow Shapley, who had just gained a name for his work on nebulae, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he registered for the doctorate in sciences.

In 1925, on his return to Belgium, he became a part-time lecturer at the Catholic University of Louvain. He then began the report which would bring him international fame, published in 1927 in the Annales de la Société Scientifique de Bruxelles (Annals of the Scientific Society of Brussels), under the title "Un Univers homogène de masse constante et de rayon croissant rendant compte de la vitesse radiale des nébuleuses extragalactiques" ("A homogeneous Universe of constant mass and growing radius accounting for the radial velocity of extragalactic nebulae"). In this report, he presented his new idea of an expanding Universe (he also derived Hubble's law and provided the first observational estimation of the Hubble constantAri Belenkiy: Alexander Friedmann and the origins of modern cosmology. Phys. Today 65(10), 38 (2012); doi: 10.1063/PT.3.1750 ) but not yet that of the primeval atom. Instead, the initial state was taken as Einstein's own finite-size static universe model. Unfortunately, the paper had little impact because the journal in which it was published was not widely read by astronomers outside of Belgium ; Lemaître translated his article into English in 1931 with the help of Arthur Eddington but the part of it pertaining to the estimation of the "Hubble constant" is not translated in the 1931 paper, for reasons that have never been properly explained.Michael Way1 and Harry Nussbaumer

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