Google, the world’s largest search engine, has an ongoing feature where their logo and homepage are updated to feature or celebrate “holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of famous artists, pioneers, and scientists.” These are known as Google Doodles.
For Tuesday, July 17, the Google doodle features Monsignor Georges Lemaître the Belgian priest and mathematician who formulated the Big Bang theory, on what would have been his 124th birthday.
Lemaître developed the theory of the Big Bang. Lemaitre described the beginning of the universe as a burst of fireworks, comparing galaxies to the burning embers spreading out in a growing sphere from the center of the burst. He believed this burst of fireworks was the beginning of time, taking place on “a day without yesterday.”
About Mons. Lemaitre, Google wrote:
Most people have heard of the Big Bang theory, but fewer recognize the name Georges Lemaitre, the man who came up with the hypothesis that transformed our understanding of astrophysics. Born on this day in 1894, Lemaitre was a Belgian Catholic priest who proposed that the universe began as a single primordial atom, which he referred to as the “Cosmic Egg.” Although his thesis was based on calculations derived from Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, Einstein initially dismissed Lemaitre’s work, remarking, “Your calculations are correct, but your physics is atrocious.” Two years later Einstein changed his mind.
Lemaitre’s 1927 paper theorizing that the universe was expanding was soon substantiated by Edwin Hubble’s observations, which were published in 1929. Trained in physics at Cambridge, Harvard and MIT, Lemaitre accurately estimated the numerical value that astronomers would come to call the Hubble constant, a unit of measurement that describes the universe’s rate of expansion. Compared to Lemaitre’s small scientific readership in Belgium, Hubble’s work received much wider circulation. As a result Hubble’s name is more often associated with the Big Bang, which birthed a whole new branch of science known as relativistic cosmology.
Still Lemaitre was not completely overlooked in his day. In 1934 he received the prestigious Francqui prize, the highest scientific accolade in Belgium—one of his nominators was Einstein. Several other international scientific awards honored Lemaitre’s legacy, and a crater on the moon was named for him in 1970.
Today’s animated Doodle depicts Lemaitre within the constantly expanding universe that he first envisioned, surrounded by galaxies expanding outward just as he said they would.
Happy Birthday Georges Lemaitre!