With the present surge of interest in astrobiology and its emergence as a new scientific
discipline in its own right, the role of a celebrated pioneer is all too often forgotten.
There can be little doubt that the late Sir Fred Hoyle played a key part in relating
astronomical phenomena to questions of life. One of his first contributions in this area
was his introduction of the so-called anthropic principle to astronomy. By the late
1940's astronomers had worked out how the simplest chemical element Hydrogen could
be converted into Helium in stars, thus providing the main energy source by which stars
shine. The building of nuclei beyond Helium by stellar nuclear processes appeared
difficult at the time because of instabilities in nuclei with atomic masses 5 and 8. Hoyle
had the grand vision of making most if not all of the elements in the Periodic Table in
stars. In the early 1950's Hoyle argued that by the very fact of our existence, the
existence of life, the element Carbon had to be synthesised in quantity in stars. This
could not happen, Hoyle concluded, unless the nucleus of Carbon possessed an energy
level corresponding to a hitherto unknown excited state which he was able to calculate.
This was necessary so that three Helium nuclei could combine first to form a Carbon
nucleus in the excited state that subsequently decayed into the ground state. One of the
major triumphs of Hoyle's Anthropic Principle was that his predicted excited state was
subsequently discovered in the laboratory by Ward Whaling and Willy Fowler at
Caltech. This discovery opened the door to a brand new discipline of Nuclear
Astrophysics. In a seminal paper published in 1957, Hoyle together with Willy Fowler,
Geoffrey and Margaret Burbidge showed that all the chemical elements needed for life
C, N, O, P, Mg, Fe, S … were made in stars. In a sense Hoyle's work in 1957 already
provided the foundation stone for astrobiology. He showed that in essence we were
made of stardust.