April 1, 1948: Alpher, Bethe, and Gamow propose the Big Bang theory
Today, children learn about the Big Bang theory in school. With the exception of some religious groups, it is considered to be one of the fundamental scientific facts upon which we base our understanding of the universe. However, there was a time before the inception of the Big Bang theory, before this idea of the creation of our universe had even been considered.
The publication of the Big Bang
On April 1 in 1948, Ralph Alpher and George Gamow published their idea of the Big Bang theory in the scientific journal “Physical Review.” Their paper is sometimes referred to as the Alpher–Bethe–Gamow paper (or αβγ paper), but its official title was “The Origin of Chemical Elements.” Within this paper, Alpher (a Ph.D. student) and Gamow (his advisor) proposed the idea that the universe consisted of highly compressed matter until a massive thermonuclear event scattered everything across the vastness of all we know today.
According to their theory, the explosion would have released neutrons, protons, and electrons across space. These would have combined as the universe cooled, creating the chemical elements as we know them today.
Jokes and not jokes
Despite the date on which “The Origin of Chemical Elements” was released, the theories contained within it were no joking matters. As we have come to realize in the years since the Big Bang theory is perhaps the most likely explanation for the creation of all we know. However, there was a joke contained within the paper, a small one at least. Gamow decided to add the name of his friend, and an eminent physicist in his own right, Hans Bethe to the authorship of the paper. He did this purely to take advantage of their initials being A, B, and G, or alpha, beta and gamma in the Greek alphabet, which are commonly used symbols in physics.