Georges Lemaître (July 17, 1894 – June 20, 1966) was a Belgian Roman Catholic priest, honorary prelate, professor of physics and astronomer at the Catholic University of Leuven. He sometimes used the title Abbé or Monseigneur.
Lemaître proposed what became known as the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe, which he called his 'hypothesis of the primeval atom'.
Lemaître was a pioneer in applying Einstein's theory of general relativity to cosmology. In a 1927 article that preceded Hubble's landmark article by two years, Lemaître derived what became known as Hubble's law and proposed it as a generic phenomenon in relativistic cosmology. Lemaître also estimated the numerical value of the Hubble constant. However, the data used by Lemaître did not allow him to prove that there was an actual linear relation, which Hubble did two years later.
Einstein was skeptical of this paper. When Lemaître approached Einstein at the 1927 Solvay Conference, the latter pointed out that Alexander Friedmann had proposed a similar solution to Einstein's equations in 1922, implying that the radius of the universe increased over time. (Einstein had also criticized Friedmann's calculations, but withdrew his comments.) In 1931, Lemaître published an article in Nature setting out his theory of the "primeval atom."
Friedmann was handicapped by living and working in the USSR, and died in 1925, soon after proposing his theory, now known as the Friedmann-Lemaître-Robertson-Walker metric. Because Lemaître spent his entire career in Europe, his scientific work is not as well known in the United States (USA) as that of Hubble or Einstein, both well known in the USA by virtue of residing there. Nevertheless, Lemaître's theory changed the course of cosmology.
This was because Lemaître:
Was well acquainted with the work of astronomers, and designed his theory to have testable implications and to be in accord with observations of the time, in particular, to explain the observed redshift of galaxies and the linear relation beween distances and velocities;
Proposed his theory at an opportune time, since Edwin Hubble would soon publish his velocity-distance relation that strongly supported an expanding universe and, consequently, the Big Bang theory;
Had studied under Arthur Eddington, who made sure that Lemaître got a hearing in the scientific community.
Both Friedmann and Lemaître proposed relativistic cosmologies featuring an expanding universe. However, Lemaître was the first to propose that the expansion explains the redshift of galaxies. He further concluded that an initial "creation-like" event must have occurred. In the 1980s, Alan Guth and Andrei Linde modified this theory by adding to it a period of inflation.
Einstein at first dismissed Friedmann and then (privately) Lemaître out of hand, saying that not all mathematics leads to correct theories. After Hubble's discovery was published, Einstein quickly and publicly endorsed Lemaître's theory, helping both the theory and its proposer get fast recognition.
In 1933, Lemaître found an important inhomogeneous solution of Einstein's field equations describing a spherical dust cloud, the Lemaître-Tolman metric.