The Universe goes beyond the Milky Way – Edwin Hubble contributions to Astronomy

Hubble Space Telescope
Image by NASA

On November 20, 1889, American astronomer Edwin Hubble was born. He is best known for his role in establishing the field of extragalactic astronomy and is generally regarded as one of the most important observational cosmologists of the 20th century.

Although Edwin Hubble earned pretty good grades in school, he used to be more of a sportsman than a scientist. In 1907, he even led the University of Chicago’s basketball tea to their very first conference. However, in his studies at the University of Chicago, Hubble concentrated mostly on mathematics, astronomy, philosophy even though his actual subject of study was law, surrendering to his father’s request. After graduating, the young scientist taught mathematics at a high school and became a professional astronomer at the age of 25. Hubble successfully apllied at the Yerkes Observatory to tudy astronomy and received his PhD in 1917.

Hubble took a break from astronomy when Congress declared war on Germany and he volunteered for the Unites States Army. When he returned, Hubble was offered a position at the Carnegie Institution’s Mount Wilson Observatory, which he accepted. In this period, the Hooker Telescope, which was then the largest telescope, was completed. Until then, it was widely assumed that the universe consisted of he Milky Way Galaxy only. The use of the Hooker Telescope however, proved differently. Hubble identified several nebulae, which locations were too distant for them to belong to the Milky Way. The 35 year old scientist presented his findings at the American Astronomical Society and immediately changed the human’s perspective on the universe, even though not everyone supported his theory.

In 1929, Hubble formulated the empirical Redshift Distance Law of galaxies, which is today mostly known as Hubble’s Law. It basically states that the greater the distance between any two galaxies, the greater their relative speed of separation. It was a significant support for the Big Bang theory y Georges Lemaître about two years earlier.

To further contributions to astronomy count Hubble’s discovery of the asteroid 1373 Cincinnati and his work on ‘The Observational Approach to Cosmology’ and ‘The Realm of the Nebulae’. Hubble has been praised for his findings and technologies that would help finding extraterrestrial life today as well as in the future. But despite his efforts and success, Hubble was never awarded a Nobel Prize, even though there was a campaign in order to achieve it and after his passing the Nobel Prize Committee decided that his work would have been eligible for a prize in physics, but it was too late. Still, Hubble is widely considered the ‘pioneer of the distant stars’.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture by Ian Morison  on the legacy of both Edwin Hubble and the Space Telescope that bears his name. He starts at Hubble`s discovery of the expanding universe and goes on to the observations made bythe Hubble Space Telescope that have, over the last two decades, given us new insights into our Universe.


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