Geoffrey Burbidge
(1925)

 

British astrophysicist who, with his wife Margaret Burbidge, made discoveries relating to nucleosynthesis - the creation of elements in space - and studied quasars and galaxies.

Burbidge was born in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. He studied physics at Bristol and University College, London, before going to the USA, first to Harvard and then the University of Chicago. During 1953-55 he worked at the Cavendish Laboratories, Cambridge, but then returned to the USA. He was professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego, 1963-78, and director of the Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona, 1978-84.
A paper published 1957 by the Burbidges, US astrophysicist William Fowler, and English astronomer Fred Hoyle began with the premise that at first stars consisted mainly of hydrogen and that most of the stars now visible are in the process of producing helium from hydrogen and releasing energy as starlight. They then suggested that as stars age some of their helium is 'burned' to form other elements, and described several ways in which this was likely to happen, relating it to red giants and supernovae.
In 1970, using evidence gained from observations, Geoffrey Burbidge calculated that the stars emitting light in elliptical galaxies could not account for more than 25% of the mass. He argued that black holes are the most likely source of the missing mass.


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