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Associated Press

Happy Birthday, Edwin Hubble, Influential Astronomer

November 20, 2009
by Isabel Cowles
“Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science.” The namesake for NASA’s most important telescope, Edwin Hubble has been called a modern-day Galileo. He identified multiple galaxies and helped to define the way in which the universe expands, providing evidence for the Big Bang theory.

Edwin Hubble's Early Days

Edwin Powell Hubble was born on November 20, 1889, in Marshfield, Missouri. His family moved to Chicago in 1898, where Hubble attended high school. As a young man, he was fascinated with science fiction and adventure tales, avidly reading books by Jules Verne and H. Rider Haggard. Hubble was also a notable athlete during this period, breaking the Illinois State high jump record.

Hubble studied astronomy and mathematics at the University of Chicago, earning his degree in 1910. In addition to his academic success, Hubble was dubbed “the next great white hope,” as his outstanding boxing abilities were thought to be a match for Jack Johnson. After college, Hubble attended Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar; however, instead of continuing with math or science, he received a degree in law.

Hubble passed the bar and established a small law practice in Louisville, Kentucky in 1913. Dissatisfied with that career path, he re-enrolled at the University of Chicago and pursued a PhD in astronomy, graduating in 1917.

Hubble's Notable Accomplishments

After a year of duty in World War I, Hubble began working at the Mount Wilson Observatory in California, where he photographed the sky through the Hooker telescope, then the most powerful telescope in the world. Hubble identified Cepheid stars within the Andromeda Nebula, and proved that they were outside of the Milky Way galaxy, he subsequently identified other galaxies, affirming for the first time that our galaxy is one of millions within the universe.

Hubble also used the Hooker telescope to develop “Hubble’s Constant,” which defines the linear relationship between a galaxy’s distance and the speed with which it moves. Hubble noted that the farther apart galaxies are from each other, the faster they move apart, illustrating that the Universe is expanding uniformly. This conclusion helps to substantiate the “Big Bang” theory, which posits that everything in the universe originated from a single point and dispersed from there.

The Rest of the Story

In 1942, Hubble pursued war-related research at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, earning a Medal of Merit for his service. After the end of World War II, he returned to Mount Wilson; he contributed to the design of the Hale telescope and helped direct the building of the Palomar Observatory, where he worked until his death from a cerebral thrombosis on September 28, 1953.
Today, one of NASA’s most advanced tools, the Hubble Telescope, serves as a legacy to the great astronomer. The Hubble mission began in 1990 when the telescope was launched to orbit the Earth outside of the atmosphere. It has since provided hundreds of thousands of images and helped researchers determine the age of the universe.

The Hubble Heritage Project uses images and research from the telescope to share scientific discovery with the public. The project offers a gallery of hundreds of images, with updates each month.

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