It’s Jeff again, here as a guest writer about another “science guy”! This time it is about one of the greatest astronomers of the 20th century, Edwin Hubble. Before researching Edwin I didn’t know much about him other than he was an astronomer and had the Hubble Space Telescope named after him. The Hubble Space Telescope is one of my favorite satellites so while Hubble didn’t have much to do with it other than lending his name to it and I will talk about it later in this post. But first …
Edwin Hubble was born on November 20, 1889 in Marshfield, Missouri to Virginia Lee James and John Powell Hubble. His father was an insurance executive who had very specific thoughts as to how his son should live his life. Edwin was interested in astronomy from an early age. His grandfather had built a telescope and on his 8th birthday Edwin was allowed to stay up all night to gaze at the sky. Edwin was a local sports hero, playing just about every kind of sport and setting state records in Illinois. Edwin also did well in school and his father insisted that his son should become a lawyer. I think that the discipline he gained learning to become the best in his sports endeavors carried him through the rest of his life. When he went to the University of Chicago in 1906 he had a couple of goals. First, he took enough law classes to satisfy his father. Second, he set his sights on the Rhodes scholarship, something that had never been awarded to a University of Chicago student, and finally one of his last goals was to focuse a fair amount of time on the sciences; mathematics, astronomy, physics and other scientific classes. Edwin studied the guidelines of the Rhodes scholarship and started taking classes in the classics, Greek, Latin, French, Politics and economics. He knew these classes would give him an edge. He ran unopposed for vice president of his senior class so he could add it to his resume and continued to play basketball as the Rhodes committees not only looked at academics, but character, “the instincts to lead and take an interest in his schoolmates” and a “fondness for and success in manly outdoor sports such as cricket, football and the like.” His work paid off and he was awarded the 1910 Rhodes scholarship for Illinois. In the fall of 1910 he went to Oxford to study law. Edwin earned a law degree from Oxford in 1913 just before returning home to his family in Kentucky after his father died. His heart wasn’t into law so he became a teacher and taught in the local high school for a bit until he finally decided at age 25 to go back to school to become an astronomer. He received his PhD in 1917 from the University of Chicago after rushing to finish his dissertation to enlist in the Army. He went to Europe, but never saw combat. After the war he spent about a year at Cambridge until he was offered a job at the Mount Wilson observatory in California. He accepted the job and worked there for the remainder of his life.
So what did Edwin Hubble do that got one of the coolest satellites ever named after him? His first big discovery was that the fuzzy nebulae dotted throughout the sky were not gas clouds, but other galaxies. Second, he determined the rate of expansion of the universe, a value now called the Hubble Constant. He did a considerable amount of work on Redshifts (how the spectrum of an object changes with respect to the direction it is traveling) and he discovered a comet. Despite all of his amazing discoveries, Hubble never won a Nobel Prize. Up until the time of his death on September 28, 1953 (he died of a stroke) astronomers were not eligible for the Nobel Prize. Subsequently the Nobel committee has changed its rules, but they never award the prize posthumously.
Edwin was by all accounts a very interesting person. He was extremely handsome and well spoken. He was quite taken by his time in England and the rest of his life he spoke with a British accent. He was a famous astronomer and rubbed elbows with movie stars, politicians and other famous scientists. After marrying into money he never let his wife meet his family and it seems he had a tendency to exaggerate his history to fit what the current audience would like to hear. All in all, was an extremely interesting, driven and brilliant person who I think would have been interesting to meet.
Hubble Space Telescope
Now that you know why the Hubble Space Telescope was named after Edwin, why do I find it so interesting? Well first of all, I’m amazed at the images it has produced. While some huge ground based telescopes are now rivaling Hubble’s quality, it was the best telescope around for the longest time. Here is a collage of some of its images:
Secondly, the telescope is HUGE! It is the size of a school bus. I spent countless hours watching the last servicing mission live. There were points when two fully suited astronauts were INSIDE the telescope working on it. It was awesome!
An then of course there are the IMAGES. Yes, I know that was my first point, but the pictures from the Hubble are truly amazing. If you are interested in astronomy at all, check out the Astronomy Picture of the Day web site. It has been around since June of 1995 and frequently features Hubble pictures.