Game-changing resolution—whose name on the laws of physics for an expanding universe?

Game-changing resolution—whose name on the laws of physics for an expanding universe?
Captured: approximately 15,000 galaxies (12,000 of which are star-forming) widely distributed in time and space. NASA, ESA, P. Oesch (University of Geneva), and M. Montes. Credit: University of New South Wales

Astronomers are engaged in a lively debate over plans to rename one of the laws of physics.

It emerged overnight in Vienna 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 .

While most (but not all) members at the meeting were in favour of the resolution, it was decided to give 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.

Giving all members a say via electronic voting was introduced following criticism of the IAU's 2006 general assembly when a resolution to define a planet – that saw Pluto relegated to a dwarf-planet – was approved.

But changing the name of the Hubble Law raises the questions of who should be honoured in the naming of the laws of physics, and whether the IAU should be involved in any decision.

An expanding universe

The expansion of the universe was one of the most mind-blowing discoveries of the 20th century.

Expansion here means that the distance between galaxies in general increases with time, and it increases uniformly. It does not matter where you are and in which direction you look at, you still see a universe that is expanding.

When you really try to imagine all of this, you may end up with a headspin or even worse, as satirically depicted by Woody Allen in his movie Annie Hall.

The rate at which the universe is currently expanding is described by the Hubble Law, named after Edwin Hubble who in 1929 published an article reporting that astronomical data signify the expansion of the universe.

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 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).

Robertson did not know about Lemaître's work. Given the limited popularity of the Belgian journal in which Lemaître's paper appeared and the French language used, it is argued his remarkable discovery went largely unnoticed at the time by the astronomical community.

But the findings published by Hubble in 1929 were most likely influenced by Lemaître. In July 1928, Lemaître and Hubble met at the 3rd meeting of the International Astronomical Union, in Leiden. During the meeting they discussed the astronomical evidence suggesting the expansion of the universe.

Lost in translation

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. Eddington invited Lemaître to republish the translation of the paper in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

In the meantime, Hubble and the American astronomer Milton Humason published new results on the expansion of the universe in the Astrophysical Journal. This time the sample was larger and reaching regions more than ten times greater than before.

These new measurements made prior measurements of the expansion of the universe obsolete. Thus, when working on the translation, Lemaître removed from his article the paragraphs where he estimated the rate of the expansion of the universe.

As a result of this change, for people not familiar with the previous papers by Lemaître or Robertson, it looked like it was Hubble who was the first one to discover the expansion of the universe.

Lemaître was apparently not concerned with with establishing priority for his original discovery. Consequently, the formula that describes the present-day expansion rate bears the name of Hubble.

The resolution of the executive committee of the IAU wants to change the name to the Hubble-Lemaître Law, to honour Lemaître and acknowledge his part in the discovery.

Naming things in the universe

The IAU was founded in 1919 and one of its activities is to standardise the naming of celestial objects and their definitions: from small asteroids, to planets and constellations.

The IAU comprises of Individual Members (more than 12,000 people from 101 countries) and National Members (79 different academies of science or national astronomical societies). The decisions made by IAU do not have any legislative power, but it does say: "The names approved by the IAU represent the consensus of professional astronomers around the world and national science academies, who as 'Individual Members' and 'National Members,' respectively, adhere to the guidelines of the International Astronomical Union."

It is thus reasonable to expect that if the resolution is passed then with time the new name will become more widely used.

Game changing resolution

This resolution has serious implications. It seeks to acknowledge Lemaître for his involvement in one of the most fundamental discoveries on the behaviour of our universe. At the same time, the resolution may set a precedent for future actions.

Will this initiate further changes? Will other disciplines follow the example set by astronomers?

Science is full of laws, effects, equations and constants that in many cases do not bear the name of their rightful discoverers. Some people worry that giving the due credit in all of such cases will cost a lot of effort and time.

Others will welcome this precedent and eagerly await when, for example, Henrietta Swan Leavitt will finally be properly acknowledged for the discovery of the period-luminosity relation.

For now, we have to wait for the result of the electronic voting.

Explore further

Web abuzz with claims that Hubble sought to censor Lemaitre's paper

Provided by The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.The Conversation

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User comments

Aug 31, 2018
a bit late to the game, as the strongest science attests to there is no ongoing cosmic expansion..

so we can call it the failed Hubble Hypothesis or Lemeitr'si keep me out of this please.

reference SPIRAL cosmological redshift hypothesis and model' 'SPIRAL vs Hubble'

Aug 31, 2018
There is no expanding Universe, it is merely a faerie tale put forth by the plasma ignoramuses.


Aug 31, 2018
BTW, it is a great irony it's called the Hubble Law as Hubble himself didn't believe it. And his protege Halton Arp falsified it decades ago, the plasma ignoramuses just refuse to let their closely held beliefs go.

Aug 31, 2018
There is good chance it will be eventually be found that the observed red-shift has another explanation and because of that the very distance measurements based on the present BB theory are wrong. The universe is most likely a SS recycling universe infinite in age and dimension.

Aug 31, 2018
Hubble was instrumental in establishing distances to cosmological bodies, then simply dubbed 'Nebulae', and discovering that some Nebulae were in fact 'Island Universes', what we now call 'galaxies'.

But he never accepted that the redshift represented radial velocity although that was the term used to describe redshift, especially in his 1929 paper. Hubble later introduced the term 'Red Shift' into serious academic works as a neutral term that did not predict the cause of the redshift as 'radial velocity' did.

Hubble believed that the redshift was caused by a 'new principle of nature' and argued this until the day he died in all of his papers, books and lectures.

An essay at this location https://www.faceb...1138221/ outlines Hubble's position from his own words and from an obituary written the year after Hubble's death by a 20 year colleague who knew Hubble and his ideas intimately.

Sep 01, 2018
Lot's of fake comments!
All of the above.
Crackpots love this subject.
Take a great dead scientist who was unsure about something (because technology and subsequently the available data was not that great) and ignore all progress since then, thereby attempting to make it look like he agrees with you.

Sep 01, 2018
Djorf, now be kind to the cultists and woo merchants. After all their delusions of competency are constantly reaffirmed by "scientific professionals".

Such as
Their Proctologist's receptionist. Their Car Mechanic's detailer guy.
Their Great Aunt Nelly's Medium's Spirit Guide.

Can't argue with that level of professional expertise!

Sep 01, 2018
Expansion in The Vacuum

What we generally call space is vacuum, occupied by protons electrons and neutrinos, as from these three ingredients all the particles occupying The Vacuum are constructed.

By definition The Vacuum is not expanding, it is by virtue of the velocity of the protons electrons and neutrinos these particles are increasing the spatial distance between themselves.
As the stars in galaxies are constructed from protons electrons and neutrinos which are galactically orbitaly bound it is the galaxy as a whole occupying The Vacuum and by virtue of its galactic motion it is increasing and decreasing the spatial distance between galaxies (galactically orbitaly merging collisions).

As the galaxies are innumerable, telescopes have not scratched the surface as to their numbers; it is not presently technically possible to ascertain galactic orbitaly merging collisions are actually expansion!

Sep 01, 2018
Gravitational Attraction and Expansion are not quasi-neutral

granville583762> galactic orbitaly merging collisions are actually expansion!

Galactic orbitaly merging collisions are the gravitational attraction between galaxies; the key point is gravitational attraction between galaxies or more precisely, gravitational attraction.
Throughout the the vacuum all galaxies are orbitaly bound to each other, in other words throughout the 15billion Lyrs telescopes can presently observe, galaxies are gravitationally attracting every other galaxy which eventually this galactic attraction is leading to a single galaxy of ginormous proportions resulting in gravitational attraction in expansion in the vacuum is a galactically contradictability collapsing expansion of mind blowing ginormous proportions in the infinite dimensions of the vacuum that two opposites expansion and contraction are not quasi-neutral resulting in not gravitational collapse but expansion!

Sep 01, 2018
Lot's of fake comments!
All of the above.
Crackpots love this subject.
Take a great dead scientist who was unsure about something (because technology and subsequently the available data was not that great) and ignore all progress since then, thereby attempting to make it look like he agrees with you.

It is funny how the latest observations are tending to agree with Hubble, rather than your dogma.

Sep 01, 2018
granville583762 ginormous proportions resulting in gravitational attraction in expansion in the vacuum is a galactically contradictability &etc...
"the vacuum"

At that point you then failed to capitalize "vacuum". Now I'm completely confused.

Sep 02, 2018
There is no expanding Universe, it is merely a faerie tale put forth by the plasma ignoramuses.

-from your first link;
"none of the published expanding-universe predictions of galaxy-size growth fit the actual data."
which, given we knowing merely that the universe expanding doesn't tell us how galaxies form and given we have yet to have complete models of galaxy formation, is a lie. Before we know if the model will fit with the data, we first need to form the model else we cannot assert whether the model will fit the data.

-from your second link;
"data for the surface brightness of disc galaxies are compatible with a static universe with redshift linearly proportional to distance"
If the universe wasn't expanding then, contrary to what we observe, there would be NO massive redshift of distant galaxies thus rendering this "linearly proportional to distance" irrelevant and this above assertion nonsense.

So, it is YOU who believes in fairytales.

Sep 02, 2018
It is an insult to Edwin Hubble that his name is associated with an "expanding universe", which he never accepted till his death: ".. if redshift are not primarily due to velocity shift … there is no evidence of expansion, no trace of curvature … and we find ourselves in the presence of one of the principles of nature that is still unknown to us today … whereas, if redshifts are velocity shifts which measure the rate of expansion, the expanding models are definitely inconsistent with the observations that have been made … expanding models are a forced interpretation of the observational results." ("Effects of Red Shifts on the Distribution of Nebulae" by E. Hubble, Ap. J., 84, 517, 1936)

It is not a scientific but a forced theological proposition and only Priest Lemaitre should own it!
Also If the universe is Infinite, expansion has no meaning!

Sep 03, 2018
Note that Hubble's scepticism about expansion does not mean that expansion is not true, only that Hubble never accepted it and argued throughout his life against it but this was friendly rivalry and he seems to have been friends with Tolmann who was just as strongly in favour of the expanding universe, Hubble even writing a paper with Tolmann on possible causes of the redshift (Tolmann taking the case for expansion, Hubble for the alternative view).

Note that Einstein never accepted gravitational waves, at least until his 1936 paper meant to disprove the concept which, after errors were found and Einstein corrected them actually did the opposite and proved the possibility of their existence. He never, however accepted the singularity and saw it as an indication of an error, like a division by zero math error, and also never accepted the event horizon.

We can list the beliefs of many famous scientists which were against the prevailing view and some turned out to be wrong.

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