Today is a good day to celebrate the universe in all it’s glory – December 30. This year, the International Year of Astronomy, makes it a double celebration.
On December 30, 1924, Edwin Hubble announced he’d discovered other galaxies in distant space. Though it may not have been so clear at the time, it meant that, as a galaxy, we are not alone in the universe (whether we are alone as intelligent life is a separate question). It also meant that the universe is much, much bigger than most people had dared to imagine.
Below, mostly an encore post.
Last year for Hubble Day, Wired picked up on the story (with a gracious link to 2007’s post here at the Bathtub). Wired includes several links to even more information, a good source of information. See Wired’s 2009 post here.
Hubble was the guy who showed us the universe is not only bigger than we imagined, it’s probably much bigger and much more fantastic than we can imagine. Hubble is the guy who opened our imaginations to the vastness of all creation.
How does one celebrate Hubble Day? Here are some suggestions:
- Easier than Christmas cards: Send a thank-you note to your junior high school science teacher, or whoever it was who inspired your interest in science. Mrs. Hedburg, Mrs. Andrews, Elizabeth K. Driggs, Herbert Gilbert, Mr. Willis, and Stephen McNeal, thank you.
- Rearrange your Christmas/Hanukkah/Eid/KWANZAA lights in the shape of the Andromeda Galaxy — or in the shape of any of the great photos from the Hubble Telescope (Andromeda Galaxy pictured above; Hubble images here)
- Go visit your local science museum; take your kids along – borrow somebody else’s kids if you have to (take them along, too)
- Spend two hours in your local library, just looking through the books on astronomy and the universe
- Anybody got a good recipe for a cocktail called “The Hubble?” “The Andromeda?” Put it in the comments, please
December 30, 1924, Edwin Hubble announced the results of his observations of distant objects in space.
In 1924, he announced the discovery of a Cepheid, or variable star, in the Andromeda Nebulae. Since the work of Henrietta Leavitt had made it possible to calculate the distance to Cepheids, he calculated that this Cepheid was much further away than anyone had thought and that therefore the nebulae was not a gaseous cloud inside our galaxy, like so many nebulae, but in fact, a galaxy of stars just like the Milky Way. Only much further away. Until now, people believed that the only thing existing outside the Milky Way were the Magellanic Clouds. The Universe was much bigger than had been previously presumed.
Later Hubble noted that the universe demonstrates a “red-shift phenomenon.” The universe is expanding. This led to the idea of an initial expansion event, and the theory eventually known as Big Bang.
Hubble’s life offered several surprises, and firsts:
Hubble was a tall, elegant, athletic, man who at age 30 had an undergraduate degree in astronomy and mathematics, a legal degree as a Rhodes scholar, followed by a PhD in astronomy. He was an attorney in Kentucky (joined its bar in 1913), and had served in WWI, rising to the rank of major. He was bored with law and decided to go back to his studies in astronomy.
In 1919 he began to work at Mt. Wilson Observatory in California, where he would work for the rest of his life. . . .
Hubble wanted to classify the galaxies according to their content, distance, shape, and brightness patterns, and in his observations he made another momentous discovery: By observing redshifts in the light wavelengths emitted by the galaxies, he saw that galaxies were moving away from each other at a rate constant to the distance between them (Hubble’s Law). The further away they were, the faster they receded. This led to the calculation of the point where the expansion began, and confirmation of the big bang theory. Hubble calculated it to be about 2 billion years ago, but more recent estimates have revised that to 20 billion years ago.
An active anti-fascist, Hubble wanted to joined the armed forces again during World War II, but was convinced he could contribute more as a scientist on the homefront. When the 200-inch telescope was completed on Mt. Palomar, Hubble was given the honor of first use. He died in 1953.
“Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science.”
That news on December 30, 1924, didn’t make the first page of the New York Times. The Times carried a small note on February 25, 1925, that Hubble won a $1,000 prize from the American Academy for the Advancement of Science.
(Does anyone have a suitable citation for that video? Where did it come from? Who produced it? Is there more somewhere?)
Happy Hubble Day! Look up!
- Journey to Palomar site (production currently being broadcast on PBS affiliates – wonderful story of George Ellery Hale and the origins of modern astronomy at Palomar; that’s where Hubble worked)
- 2009 Mt. Wilson calendar, for $15
- List of science museums in the U.S.
- List of science museums in the world
- 5 gigapixel image of the Milky Way (has some wallpaper company made a mural of this yet? can we stretch this image all the way around our classroom?)
- The telescope: 400 years old in 2008 (dated by Lippershay’s patent application)