Supernovae are significant to us in one other decidedly central way. Without them we wouldn't be here. You will recall the cosmological conundrum with which we ended the first chapter—that the Big Bang created lots of light gases but no heavy elements. Those came later, but for a very long time nobody could figure out how they came later.
The problem was that you needed something really hot—hotter even than the middle of the hottest stars—to forge carbon and iron and the other elements without which we would be distressingly immaterial. Supernovae provided the explanation, and it was an English cosmologist almost as singular in manner as Fritz Zwicky who figured it out.
He was a Yorkshireman named Fred Hoyle. Hoyle, who died in 2001, was described in an obituary in Nature as a "cosmologist and controversialist" and both of those he most certainly was. He was, according to Nature 's obituary, "embroiled in controversy for most of his life" and "put his name to much rubbish." He claimed, for instance, and without evidence, that the Natural History Museum's treasured fossil of an Archaeopteryx was a forgery along the lines of the Piltdown hoax, causing much exasperation to the museum's paleontologists, who had to spend days fielding phone calls from journalists from all over the world.
He also believed that Earth was not only seeded by life from space but also by many of its diseases, such as influenza and bubonic plague, and suggested at one point that humans evolved projecting noses with the nostrils underneath as a way of keeping cosmic pathogens from falling into them.