Today, Edwin Hubble holds a new Universe up to our
view. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
Now we've set the
Hubble Observatory in space, and we wait to see
all that it has to show us. But who was Hubble?
Where does this great space telescope get its name?
Edwin Hubble was born in Missouri in 1889. He was
educated at the University of Chicago and Oxford.
After WW-I he joined the Mount Wilson Observatory.
And there, until his death in 1953, he expanded the
Universe far beyond what it had been.
When he began, the Universe consisted of only one
galaxy -- our Milky Way. By the time Hubble died,
our home had expanded into a whole starry host of
Spiral nebulae were well known when Hubble was
young. Some even thought they might be other
galaxies -- other island universes. But how could
we tell? The nebulae wouldn't make sense until we
knew their real size and their real distance from
Hubble made the first crack in the mystery in 1923.
In Andromeda, he discovered a kind of pulsating
star called a Cepheid. He also used spectroscopy to
relate its pulsations to its distance from Earth. A
year later, he had enough data to write a friend
about the huge distances he'd calculated. The
fellow wrote back to him, "Here is the letter that
has destroyed my Universe." And so it had! But
there was more.
Hubble unloaded a second bombshell in 1929. Not
only do we live in a vast place, but it's growing
ever more vast. He found that other galaxies move
away from ours, 90 miles per second faster for each
light year of distance from Earth.
What could that mean? Why should the speed of
retreat increase with the distance from Earth? The
answer finally came from relativity theory. Space
itself stretches in the vastness of the Universe.
In those days, relativity stretched belief as well.
Hubble was the finest of experimentalists. Yet, he
chose to support the relativity idea for the most
theoretical reason. He backed it because it was
Now we've set a telescope in orbit to gaze at our
back yard -- 15 billion light years in its reach
and expanding by twelve trillion miles each year.
Long ago John Quincy Adams set out to build more
observatories. He coined the term "Lighthouses in
the Sky." It earned him ridicule at the time, but I
like it. It fits this new lighthouse orbiting our
night skies. And Hubble's name is right for it. For
he first told what immensities it will steer us to.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds