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Edwin Hubble

Edwin Hubble Photo

Edwin Powell Hubble was an American Astronomer born on November 20, 1889 in Missouri, USA. Hubble is credited with revolutionizing the field of astrophysics and proving the existence of galaxies in addition to the Milky Way.

Hubble’s father, John Powell Hubble, worked in the insurance industry, which rendered financial stability and prosperity to the family. Soon after Hubble’s birth, the family moved to Chicago, Illinois where Hubble received most of his primary and secondary education. He was an intellectually bright boy, displaying exemplary ability in athletics, winning several accolades for his athletic performance.

Hubble completed his high school at Wheaton High School near Chicago. Upon completion of his high school, Hubble was awarded a scholarship to study at the University of Chicago in 1906. Hubble studied various subjects such as mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy at the University of Chicago, declaring a BSc degree in 1910.

Having displayed a keen academic profile and an interest in athletics, Hubble was awarded a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, making him one of the first Rhodes Scholars at Oxford University. At Oxford, Hubble pursued studies in Jurisprudence (the theory of law), keeping up with the wishes of his ailing father. He also went on to take up major studies in Spanish and Literature and received an MA degree from Oxford. Hubble returned to Chicago in 1913, the year that marked his father’s demise, and began his teaching stint at a high school in New Albany, Indiana, teaching Spanish, Physics, and Mathematics along with coaching students in basketball. The same year Hubble passed the bar examination and half-heartedly practiced law in Kentucky.

Realizing that his true passion still lay in Astronomy, Hubble returned to the University of Chicago in 1914 and began his studies in Astronomy at the university’s Yerkes Observatory. As Hubble was completing his graduate studies, he was recruited by George Ellery Hale, the founder, and director of Carnegie Institution’s Mount Wilson Observatory, near Pasadena, California. The observatory also happened to house the 100-inch (254-cm) Hooker telescope, regarded as the most powerful telescope during that time.

In 1923, with the help of the Hooker telescope, Hubble was able to identify a Cepheid variable, a type of star with a predictable, varying brightness that can be used to measure distances.  This finding helped Hubble construe that the Andromeda Nebula was not a nearby star cluster but rather a completely independent galaxy, now called the Andromeda galaxy.

In 1925, Hubble managed to declare that these nebulae were nearly a million light-years away, much too distant to be part of the Milky Way. Hubble is also credited with devising an intricate classification system of galaxies and grouped them according to their appearance which eventually became to be known as the Hubble sequence also colloquially known as Hubble Tuning Fork Diagram.

Hubble also served in the US Army during World War II as head of ballistics at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, a service that conferred upon him the Legion of Merit decoration.

Hubble remained active in astronomy research until his death and played a central role in the design and construction of the 200-inch Hale Telescope.

His most astonishing discovery unfurled with his study of the spectra of 46 galaxies, and in particular of the Doppler velocities of those galaxies relative to our own Milky Way galaxy. Hubble’s discovery yielded findings which confirmed that the farther apart galaxies are from each other, the faster they move away from each other. Based on this observation, Hubble concluded that the universe expands uniformly. Although numerous scientists had posited similar ideas pertaining to this theory based on Einstein’s General Relativity, Edwin Hubble’s observations, published in 1929, helped convince the scientific community.

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