Edwin Powell Hubble was born in Marshfield, Missouri, on November 20, 1889.
Sixty four years later he was the most famous astronomer of his time when,
on September 28, 1953, he
died unexpectedly at his home in San Marino, California.
In 1931 Hubble had announced a law now named for him, that the spectra of
galaxies were shifted to the red in proportion to their distance from us. His
discovery of the relationship between red shift and distance was instrumental
in establishing the paradigm that the universe has been expanding since its
creation in a hot Big Bang.
Hubble used large reflecting telescopes -- the 100-inch on
Mt. Wilson and the 200-inch on Mt. Palomar -- to identify
individual stars in galaxies outside our Milky Way. He dedicated much of his
career to measuring the spectra of faint galaxies and determining their
distances from the properties of the stars within them. When the shift of
wavelength in the spectrum is interpreted as a speed of recession, the Hubble
Constant which characterizes it measures the age of the universe.
The Hubble Space Telescope, released into orbit in April 1990, was designed to
observe the heavens without interference from the Earth's atmosphere.
It allows us to see to great distances, looking back in time to
view galaxies as they were when first formed. One of the
primary reasons the Space Telescope was built was
to determine a precise value of the Hubble Constant.
Edwin Hubble was the son of John Powell and Virginia James Hubble. After
receiving a degree from the University of Chicago, he spent the summer of 1910
with his family at 928 Bland Avenue in Shelbyville, Kentucky. His father, a
manager for National of Hartford Insurance, had moved them there from Chicago
in 1909 so that they could live in a small town. Edwin had been awarded a
Rhodes Scholarship, and he departed Shelbyville by train in September to begin
his journey to Oxford, England. There he received a B.A. in law, following the
path set by his father, who strongly objected to Edwin's interest in a career
In 1911 the family moved to 1318 Brook Street in Louisville. His father died at
home there in the winter of 1913 while Edwin was still in England. John
Powell Hubble is buried in Cave Hill Cemetery.
Edwin returned to Louisville that summer to look after his mother, two sisters
(Helen, Lucy Lee), and a brother (Henry). Of others in the family, a sister
(Virginia) had died as a child, and a brother (William) was a student at the
University of Wisconsin, who spent the summer of 1913 with the family in
Louisville. To provide enough room for everyone when Edwin arrived, the family
moved to 1287 Everett Avenue, where Edwin lived with them for the following
year. During the summer Edwin translated Spanish documents for an import
company, and that fall he was hired to teach Spanish, physics, and mathematics,
and to coach basketball, at New Albany High School. An accomplished athlete
himself, he led the team to a third place finish in the state championship
tournament. His popularity as a teacher is recorded in the school yearbook which
is dedicated to him.
When the school term ended in May, 1914, Hubble applied to return to the University
of Chicago as a graduate student in astronomy. He left Louisville for good in
August 1914 when he moved to Yerkes Observatory to begin his career as an
astronomer. The family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, two years later.
Gale E. Christianson has written an authoritative biography
-- Edwin Hubble, Mariner of the Nebulae
(Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, 1995) -- that
documents Hubble's career and describes the year he spent in Louisville. Research
on Hubble's Louisville connection was also done by Joel A. Gwinn, Professor Emeritus
of Physics at the University of Louisville, and is published in Edwin Hubble
in Louisville, 1913-1914, Filson Club History Quarterly, 56 (October 1982),