Edwin Hubble grew up in a small town in southwest Missouri, but his sights were always set on the stars, literally. There’s a saying that the country allows you the best view of the stars, and the early days of Hubble’s life planted the seeds that would change the way all of us view space. At the peak of his career, he was considered the foremost expert on extragalactic astronomy, and he even provided the first evidence that the universe is constantly expanding.
THE EARLY YEARS
Edwin Powell Hubble was born on November 20, 1898, and spent his early years in Marshfield. Hubble was a good student as well as an outstanding athlete. His father was a well-to-do insurance executive, and it wasn’t long before his family packed their bags and moved to Illinois.
In high school, Edwin won numerous athletic awards and even set the state record for high jump. His next stop was the University of Chicago, where his athletic abilities continued to shine while his intellectual prowess began to blossom, leading him to a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University. He often pointed out that his interest in science was generated while reading scientific books during his quiet days in rural Missouri.
RISE TO FAME
Despite talents in a vast array of subjects, Hubble struggled with choosing a career path. At Oxford University he shifted from the study of astronomy to law. He switched again after graduation, returning to the United States to take a job as a high school basketball coach. He eventually decided to return to law, passed the bar exam, and set up a law practice in Kentucky. But again, he gave up a promising legal career to pursue his passion for astronomy at the Yerkes Observatory and the University of Chicago.
Upon completion of his graduate studies in 1917 and his service in World War I, he moved to California and accepted a position at the Carnegie Institution’s Mount Wilson Observatory near Pasadena, California, where he settled down and spent much of the rest of his career.
SHOW ME SUCCESS
His first major study at Mount Wilson helped scientists to understand galaxies, their composition, and how they originated. It was generally believed that the fuzzy clouds of light that are visible at night were comprised of stars, but very little else was known. His viewings in 1924 gave us all a better understanding of what we were seeing. He measured the distance to the Andromeda Nebula, proving that it was one hundred thousand times further away than our nearest stars. His conclusion was that it must be a separate galaxy at least the same size as our Milky Way, only millions of miles away.
His observations of other distant galaxies also led to the breakthrough discovery in 1929 that the universe is expanding, and that our own galaxy is likely moving through space at amazing speeds. He showed that a star’s apparent brightness is a rough measure of its distance from Earth, and that galaxies are moving away from us with a speed proportional to their distance.
Hubble’s findings were probably a combination of solid science and a bit of luck. Numerous studies since then, combined with improved techniques and equipment, have proven that much of his original research was sound. His findings, and Albert Einstein’s theories of gravity and relativity, are the key pieces that still lead many scientists to believe the universe originated with a Big Bang millions of years ago.
*The orbiting Hubble Space Telescope, which has significantly advanced the study of the universe, is named in his honor.
*Shortly before his death, Palomar’s 200-inch Hale Telescope was completed and Hubble was the first to use it.
*In 1946, he was awarded the Medal of Merit for exceptional conduct in providing outstanding services to citizens.
*The asteroid known as 2069 Hubble and the Hubble crater on the Moon are also named in his honor.