Edwin Hubble

Edwin Hubble
Born Edwin Powell Hubble
(1889-11-20)November 20, 1889
Marshfield, Missouri, U.S.
Died September 28, 1953(1953-09-28) (aged 63)
San Marino, California, U.S.
Residence United States
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Chicago
The Queen's College, Oxford
Known for Hubble sequence
Spouse(s) Grace Burke Sr.
Awards Newcomb Cleveland Prize 1924
Barnard Medal for Meritorious Service to Science 1935
Bruce Medal 1938
Franklin Medal 1939
Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society 1940
Legion of Merit 1946
Scientific career
Fields Astronomy
Institutions University of Chicago
Mount Wilson Observatory
Influenced Allan Sandage
Edwin Hubble signature.svg

Edwin Powell Hubble (November 20, 1889 – September 28, 1953) [1] was an American astronomer. He played a crucial role in establishing the fields of extragalactic astronomy and observational cosmology and is regarded as one of the most important astronomers of all time.

Hubble discovered that many objects previously thought to be clouds of dust and gas and classified as " nebulae" were actually galaxies beyond the Milky Way. [2] He used the strong direct relationship between a classical Cepheid variable's luminosity and pulsation period [3] [4] (discovered in 1908 by Henrietta Swan Leavitt [5]) for scaling galactic and extragalactic distances. [6] [7]

Hubble provided evidence that the recessional velocity of a galaxy increases with its distance from the earth, a property now known as " Hubble's law", despite the fact that it had been both proposed and demonstrated observationally two years earlier by Georges Lemaître [8]. Hubble's Law implies that the universe is expanding. [9] A decade before, the American astronomer Vesto Slipher had provided the first evidence that the light from many of these nebulae was strongly red-shifted, indicative of high recession velocities. [10] [11]

Hubble's name is most widely recognized for the Hubble Space Telescope which was named in his honor, with a model prominently displayed in his hometown of Marshfield, Missouri.


Edwin Hubble was born to Virginia Lee Hubble (née James) (1864–1934) [12] and John Powell Hubble, an insurance executive, in Marshfield, Missouri, and moved to Wheaton, Illinois, in 1900. [13] In his younger days, he was noted more for his athletic prowess than his intellectual abilities, although he did earn good grades in every subject except for spelling. Edwin was a gifted athlete playing baseball, football, basketball, and he ran track in both high school and college. He played a variety of positions on the basketball court from center to shooting guard. In fact Hubble even led the University of Chicago's basketball team to their first conference title in 1907. [14] He won seven first places and a third place in a single high school track and field meet in 1906.

His studies at the University of Chicago were concentrated on law, which led to a bachelor of science degree in 1910. Hubble also became a member of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity. He spent the three years at The Queen's College, Oxford after earning his bachelors as one of the university's first Rhodes Scholars, initially studying jurisprudence instead of science (as a promise to his dying father), [15] and later added literature and Spanish, [15] and earning his master's degree. [16]

In 1909, Hubble's father moved his family from Chicago to Shelbyville, Kentucky, so that the family could live in a small town, ultimately settling in nearby Louisville. His father died in the winter of 1913, while Edwin was still in England, and in the summer of 1913, Edwin returned to care for his mother, two sisters, and younger brother, as did his brother William. The family moved once more to Everett Avenue, in Louisville's Highlands neighborhood, to accommodate Edwin and William. [17]

Hubble was also a dutiful son, who despite his intense interest in astronomy since boyhood, acquiesced to his father's request to study law, first at the University of Chicago and later at Oxford, though he managed to take a few math and science courses. After the death of his father in 1913, Edwin returned to the Midwest from Oxford, but did not have the motivation to practice law. Instead, he proceeded to teach Spanish, physics and mathematics at New Albany High School in New Albany, Indiana, where he also coached the boys' basketball team. After a year of high-school teaching, he entered graduate school with the help of his former professor from the University of Chicago to study astronomy at the university's Yerkes Observatory, where he received his PhD in 1917. His dissertation was titled "Photographic Investigations of Faint Nebulae". [18] In Yerkes, he had access to one of the most powerful telescopes in the world at the time, which had an innovative 24 inch (61 cm) reflector. [19]

Hubble's identity card in the American Expeditionary Forces.

After the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, Hubble rushed to complete his PhD dissertation so he could join the military. Hubble volunteered for the United States Army and was assigned to the newly created 86th Division, where he served in 2nd Battalion, 343 Infantry Regiment. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, [20] and was found fit for overseas duty on July 9, 1918, but the 86th Division never saw combat. After the end of World War I, Hubble spent a year in Cambridge, where he renewed his studies of Astronomy. [21] In 1919, Hubble was offered a staff position at the Carnegie Institution for Science's Mount Wilson Observatory, near Pasadena, California, by George Ellery Hale, the founder and director of the observatory. Hubble remained on staff at Mount Wilson until his death in 1953. Shortly before his death, Hubble became the first astronomer to use the newly completed giant 200-inch (5.1 m) reflector Hale Telescope at the Palomar Observatory near San Diego, California.

Hubble also worked as a civilian for U.S. Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland during World War II as the Chief of the External Ballistics Branch of the Ballistics Research Laboratory during which he directed a large volume of research in exterior ballistics which increased the effective fire power of bombs and projectiles. His work was facilitated by his personal development of several items of equipment for the instrumentation used in exterior ballistics, the most outstanding development being the high-speed clock camera, which made possible the study of the characteristics of bombs and low velocity projectiles in flight. The results of his studies were credited with greatly improving design, performance, and military effectiveness of bombs and rockets. For his work there, he received the Legion of Merit award. [22]

Hubble was raised as a Christian but some of his later statements suggest uncertainty. [23] [24]

Hubble had a heart attack in July 1949 while on vacation in Colorado. He was taken care of by his wife, Grace Hubble, and continued on a modified diet and work schedule. He died of cerebral thrombosis (a spontaneous blood clot in his brain) on September 28, 1953, in San Marino, California. No funeral was held for him, and his wife never revealed his burial site. [25] [26] [27]

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