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Alexander Graham Bell
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Anton van Leeuwenhoek
Kurt Lewin
Charles Lyell
James Clerk Maxwell
Isaac Newton

Jean Piaget
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B. F. Skinner
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Edwin Hubble

Edwin Hubble had a profound effect on our perception of the universe. Born in Marshfield, Missouri in 1889, he was the last person you'd think of as a great astronomer. Far from being the stereotypical scientist, he was a strong, athletic type - a football player and a boxer - Superman rather than Clark Kent.

Edwin Hubble
Edwin Hubble

He drifted back into astronomy from a career in law, following a promise made to his dying father. With a bachelor's degree in mathematics, philosophy and astronomy from the University of Chicago, his all-round academic and athletic strengths earned him a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University in 1910. There, he studied the theory of the Roman and English legal systems, along with literature and Spanish.

Edwin Hubble returned from Oxford in 1913, and became a high school teacher at New Albany, Indiana. It was a lucky intake of students who were taught Spanish, physics and mathematics by this future luminary. The boys' basketball team was also coached by Mr. Hubble. However, a year of teaching was enough. His passion was astronomy and he was prepared to settle for being below the top-flight, if that was what it took to be an astronomer. So in 1914, he returned to the University of Chicago to begin his PhD.

Completing his doctoral thesis in 1917, he was invited by George Ellery Hale to take up a staff post at Mount Wilson Observatory in Pasadena. The War intervened and after serving in France, he returned in 1919 as Major Edwin Hubble, a title he was proud to continue using at Mount Wilson. He arrived in time for the completion of the 100-inch Hooker reflector, the world's largest telescope.

Edwin Hubble set to work and in 1922-23 he identified pulsating stars called Cepheid variables in a number of spiral nebulae. These observations were proof that the universe was much larger than was thought at the time. The widespread belief was that the Milky Way formed the entire universe. Hubble showed that it was just one galaxy, similar to many others he'd observed. One result of his work was his scheme of classification, by shape of galaxies, is a method still used today by professional and amateur astronomers.

His work with redshifts, using the measurements of Milton Humason and others, led to what we know as Hubble's Law. This states that the speed at which any two galaxies are moving apart increases with their separation distance. This was in line with the belief that the universe is expanding. Einstein's General Theory of Relativity had indicated this, leading Einstein to alter his equations to factor out what he believed to be an anomaly.

Edwin Hubble served at the US Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground during World War 2 and in 1946 was awarded the Legion of Merit. He suffered a heart attack in 1949, after which he was cared for by Grace, his wife. He continued to work but he died in 1953 from a blood clot on his brain. Grace did not hold a funeral service for him and chose not to release details of his final resting place. A fitting memorial has been the Hubble Space Telescope, named in his honor. We can only speculate upon what Edwin Hubble might have done with this technology at his disposal.


Rumor Has It

Edwin Hubble's ghost actually inhabits the Hubble Telescope circling the Earth. From time to time scientists will see a faint image of Edwin giving himself bunny ears as the telescope is observing the Milky Way.

Written by Kevin Lepton


 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 


 

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