When it comes to astronomy, Edwin Hubble is the first person to be mentioned, mostly because of the famous Hubble Space Telescope. However, weirdly enough, Edwin Hubble himself had nothing to do with the latter, which raises the question, what Hubble’s contribution to astronomy was, after all. Diving into the thrilling biography of one of the world’s most famous and, quite paradoxically, the least identifiable scientists, one can learn not only about what connection Hubble and the telescope of the same name has, but also about a plethora of details about Hubble’s life which led him from the rank of a major to the position of an astronomer.
If someone had told Virginia Lee James, a wife of John Powell Hubble, an insurance executive, after she gave birth to a tiny crying boy, that her son was going to redefine the existing laws of astronomy and reinvent the entire perception of what the Universe was, she would have been slightly surprised, to say the least. Curiously enough, the above mentioned prophecy seemed incredible even later, when Edwin became a student – the rest of the students were already writing their essays, while Edwin was still learning how to spell his name (Christensen 408).
As it has been mentioned above, Edwin Hubble never had a reputation of a nerd, which is weird for someone who became one of the world’s most renowned scientists. To complete the effect of the cognitive dissonance, one must mention the fact that as a student of the high school, young Hubble took up sports in a very active and successful way: “His popularity grew in high school when he participated in basketball and football and was the captain of the track team” (Christensen 408).
Unlike one might have expected, Hubble was far from getting high marks in every single subject; mostly because of his issues with grammar, he never made it far in English (Christensen 408), which, however, hardly caused him the least concern. Though the idea of being destined to become a famous scientist from the very childhood has been worn out to the point when it is disgustingly banal, it still works pretty well with Hubble – mostly because in his case, predetermination was really there, and it was meaningful enough. As Smith explains, Hubble “acquired his first interest in stars when his grandfather let him look through his telescope as a birthday treat when he was eight years old” (Smith 124). So, in Hubble’s case, one can claim that the desire to explore the Universe ran in his family. And, as a matter of fact, this interest later on took him to England to study astronomy in depth and discover even more about the current space explorations and the theories concerning time and matter.
Anyway, continuing his education, Hubble focused on the study of mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy – the three objects that he was actually interested in and was willing to focus on in his further career, but it seems that a destiny of other sort was planned for him. Soon Hubble was in Indiana, teaching students and studying the specifics of nebula formation (Smith 125). It seemed that the changes could not have been more drastic when suddenly WWI broke out, and Hubble started his new career as a soldier and ended up as a major. In his continued experience in the US Army in 1939-1945, he earned his Legion of Merit (Smith 124).
However, unlike other soldiers who could not find their track of life when WWI and WWII came to an end, Hubble knew exactly what he was going to do, for he knew exactly where he stopped in his astronomy explorations. The world was still recovering from the wounds of war, but Edwin had no time for mourning – there was still a lot of work to do.
Back to what exactly made him famous all over the world, one must mention that Hubble made three major discoveries, and the first and the foremost concerned the actual size of the Universe. Much like the people of the pre-Copernicus era, who considered that the Earth was the center of the Solar System, the entire scientific world could not prove that the Milky Way was actually not the center of the Universe until Hubble discovered the Cepheid variables and shifted the Earth with the entire Solar System to the suburbs of the galaxy. Having made it clear that the nebulas which the Hale Telescope detected were way too distanced and too vague to belong to the Milky Way, Hubble discovered that the latter was only one of the many (Henbest and Couper 23).
However, the above mentioned was only a warm-up before the grand discovery. With the help of his telescope, Hubble considered the remark made by Vesto Slipher concerning the spectrum movement. One of Slipher’s experiments detected the so-called redshift, or the proportional increase of the wavelength of the space objects. According to Hubble’s calculations, redshift meant that the Universe is undergoing metric expansion (Schiller 35). The phenomenon of the Universe metric expansion was therefore finally proven. The given discovery allowed suggesting that the uniform distribution of galaxies can be observed in the Universe, which made quite a stir among the astronomers all over the world.
Finally, back to the aforementioned Hubble Telescope, it was not named after Edward Hubble for nothing. Hubble collaborated with George Ellery Hale to build a giant Hale reflector and was the first to use it. Further on, he had been working on the Hubble Telescope project, but the latter, unfortunately, was completed only after Hubble’s death.
Hence, it is obvious that the life of a scientist is not bordered by the walls of his study; it is the summary of all experiences that (s)he has to go through to finally get where (s)he is destined to. Although Edwin Powell Hubble is almost always referred to in the realm of the popular culture only as the man who has something to do with the huge telescope of the same name, it seems that there is much more to Hubble’s personality than meets the eye. Even though the link between the astronomer and the famous space telescope appears to be quite loose, there is still a lot to remember Edwin Hubble for, and among his numerous contributions, the scientific discoveries are not the only ones. A person to be appreciated and honored, Hubble deserves to be mentioned among some of the most significant people in the field of astronomy as the man who could see beyond the boundaries of the visible Universe.
Christensen, Lawrence O. Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia, MO:University of Missouri. 1999. Print.
Henbest, Nigel and Heather Couper. The Guide to the Galaxy. Cambridge, UK: CUP Archive. 1994. Print.
Smith, Robert W. Standards-Based Science Investigations. Westminster, CA: Teacher Created Resources. 2008. Print.
Schiller, Jon. Big Bang and Black Holes. New York, NY: CreateSpace, Inc. 2010. Print.