20 November 2008

Edwin Hubble

Famed astronomer Edwin Hubble, namesake of the telescope orbiting above us all, was born on this day, November 20, in 1889.

After receiving an undergraduate degree in astronomy, he went to Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship -- to study law.

In 1913 he returned to the US, and began the practice of law in Kentucky. Fortunately for the world of science, he soon realized he wasn't happy in that profession, and returned to his scientific passion. In 1917, he received a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Chicago.

It was Hubble who established that our own Milky Way is not the whole of the universe, just one galaxy among many, and Hubble who devised the classification system for galaxies still in use. Further, it was Hubble who noticed the redshift, indicating that galaxies are uniformly moving away from one another -- in short, that the universe is expanding.

Hubble died in 1953, two months short of his 66th birthday.

It's always fitting to remember the giants of our species, and Hubble belongs in that company. Indeed, Einstein visited him once in the 1930s to personally congratulate him on his accomplishments -- Einstein believed that the assumption of the constant size of the universe had been the greatest error in his own work on relativity and its cosmological implications, and that Hubble's observations had set him straight in this.

This anniversary of his birth is, I think, deserving of a limerick.

Here's to Edwin Hubble
in afterlife untroubled.
May your soul
Enjoy its stroll
Through galaxies unhuddled.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.