Monday, 20 June 2016

The birth of Goldilocks

Fred Hoyle's script featuring 'big bang'
(source St John's College, Cambridge)
The origins of snappy terms for scientific events and concepts is sometimes very clear. We know, for instance, that English astrophysicist Fred Hoyle came up with 'big bang' in a BBC radio broadcast in 1949.

Others are somewhat less clear. Although many identify the American physicist John Wheeler as the originator of 'back hole' they appear to be incorrect - and we aren't sure who did coin the term. It seems to have been first used at at an American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in January 1964, as a result of which it first appeared in print in a Science News Letter article by Ann Ewing. No one is sure who thought of it.

Another term that is popular these days that has some mystery over its origin is where Goldilocks came from. Not the children's story itself, but rather the idea of applying the 'not too hot, not too cold, just right' principle to the region around the Sun which can support water-based life - now often referred to as the Goldilocks Zone.

Nope, that's not it
(source Wikipedia)
The terms seems to have crept in during the 1970s, despite suggestions that have been made that it was down to the team of astronomer Donald Brownlee and paleontologist Peter Ward. However this pair wrote papers around the area in 2000/2001 - far too late to have originated the term, and also seem to have used the rather more frumpy Circumstellar Habitable Zone or CHZ. Similarly claims for Geoffrey W. Marcy, the disgraced American extrasolar planet discoverer, place it in the 1990s, which again is too late.

Perhaps the best lead we have is that science writer John Gribbin used the term (or to be precise, Goldilocks planet for the Earth) in the early 1970s when writing for X. At the time he thought that he had originated the term, but subsequently discovered it had been used earlier - only he can't remember by whom.

So, for the moment, the definitive origins of the term are a mystery. Perhaps someone has an earlier source hiding away somewhere. It would be delightful to find out.

No comments:

Post a Comment