Thomas Gold

From Academic Kids

Thomas Gold (May 22, 1920June 22, 2004) was an Austrian astrophysicist, a professor of astronomy at Cornell University, and a member of the US National Academy of Sciences. Gold was one of three young Cambridge scientists who advanced the scientific understanding of cosmology in the 1950s by proposing the controversial 'steady state' hypothesis of the universe. Gold had the unusual ability to cross academic and scientific boundaries, into biophysics, astrophysics, space engineering, or geophysics, to challenge longstanding dogma with his profound insights.



Originally from Vienna, Austria, he was educated at Zuoz College in Switzerland and Trinity College, Cambridge. At the start of World War II, he endured internment as an enemy alien, when he met Hermann Bondi. Once released, he worked with Bondi and Fred Hoyle (near Dunsfold in Surrey) on radar, a partnership which would extend into astrophysics. Together, the three upset existing dogma with their unorthodox theories on the nature of the cosmos. He later worked at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, in Greenwich, England, and at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

He was married twice: to Merle Tuberg in 1947 and to Carvel Beyer in 1972. He had three daughters by his first wife and one by his second. He died at the age of 84.


Gold carried out research on cosmology and on magnetic fields, and coined the term 'magnetosphere' for the Earth's magnetic fields. Along with Bondi, he developed the steady-state theory. Soon after the discovery of pulsars in 1968, he correctly identified these objects as rapidly rotating neutron stars with strong magnetic fields.

For a number of years, Gold promoted the idea a thick layer of dust would cover many portions of the surface of the Moon. His opinion influenced the design of the American Surveyor lunar landing probes, but their precautions appeared excessive, as Gold had overestimated the extent to which cyclic thermal expansion and contraction would pulverize lunar surface rock.

He won the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1985.

Origins of petroleum

Gold achieved fame for his 1992 paper "The Deep Hot Biosphere" in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which presented a controversial view of the origin of coal, oil, and gas deposits, a theory of an abiogenic petroleum origin. The theory suggests coal and crude oil deposits have their origins in natural gas flows which feed bacteria living at extreme depths under the surface of the Earth; in other words, oil and coal are produced through tectonic forces, rather than from the decomposition of fossils. Gold also published a book of the same title in 1999, which expanded on the arguments in his 1992 paper and included speculations on the origin of life.

According to Gold and Russian scientific forebears, bacteria feeding on the oil accounts for the presence of biological debris in hydrocarbon fuels, obviating the need to resort to a biogenic theory for the origin of the latter. The flows of underground hydrocarbons may also explain oddities in the concentration of other mineral deposits.

Most western geologists and petrologists consider petroleum abiogenic theories implausible and believe the biogenic theory of 'fossil fuel' formation adequately explains all observed fossil fuel deposits. Most geologists do recognize the geologic carbon cycle includes subducted carbon which returns to the surface, with studies showing the carbon does rise in various ways. Gold and geology experts point out the biogenic theories do not explain phenomena such as helium in oil fields and oil fields associated with deep geologic features.

However, recent discoveries have shown that bacteria live at depths far greater than previously believed. Whilst this does not prove Gold's theory, it certainly lends support to its arguments. A thermal depolymerization process which converts animal waste to carbon fuels does show some processes can be done without bacterial action, but does not explain details of natural oil deposits such as magnetite production.

See Also


External links

  • ( - 'Gas Origin Theories to be Studied' (abiogenic gas debate), David Brown, Explorer (November, 2002)
  • ( - Thomas Gold homepage (last updated October, 2000)
  • ( - 'The Deep Hot Biosphere' (scientific paper), Thomas Gold, (July, 1992)
  • ( - 'Dismissal of the Claims of a Biological Connection for Natural Petroleum', J. F. Kenney, Ac. Ye. F. Shnyukov, V. A. Krayushkin, I. K. Karpov, V. G. Kutcherov, I. N. Plotnikova, Energia, Vol 22, No 3, pp 26-34, 2001
  • (,3604,1245819,00.html) - 'Thomas Gold: The science maverick who challenged establishment thinking - and quite often turned out to be right' (obituary), Anthony Tucker, The Guardian (June 24, 2004)
  • ( - 'Goldmine yields clues for life on Mars' (report on discovery of bacteria found living on hydrogen gas 3.5km below the Earth's surface), Nature
  • ( - 'Hot Stuff: Iron-Reducing Archaeon Respires to Greatness: From the depths, microbe "Strain 121" takes life to its hottest known limits' (about deep hot bacteria producing magnetite), National Science Foundation (August 14, 2003 press release)
  • ( - 'Unconventional Ideas About Unconventional Gas', Walter Rose, Hans Olaf Pfannkuch, Society of Petroleum Engineers Unconventional Gas Recovery Symposium (May 16-18, 1982)es:Thomas Gold

pl:Thomas Gold sl:Thomas Gold de:Thomas Gold


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