Not long ago, there were no galaxies far, far away. In fact, less than a century ago, many scientists believed there was just one galaxy, the Milky Way. All that changed, however, on December 30th, 1924, when American astronomer Edwin Hubble announced he had evidence that the Milky Way galaxy was just one of the many galaxies in an ever-expanding universe.
Here are 7 facts about the man who changed our universe forever:
He revolutionized astronomy
In the 1920s, Hubble made history by looking through a 100-inch telescope at Mount Wilson in Southern California. Training his gaze on the Andromeda Nebula, he saw stars similar to ones in our galaxy, only dimmer. One of those stars was a Cepheid variable, which astronomers could use to measure distances. The discovery of the Cepheid variable allowed Hubble to deduce that the Andromeda Nebula was not a nearby cluster of stars, but an entirely different galaxy. By the 1930s, most astronomers had been convinced that the Milky Way galaxy was but one of millions in the universe. The very notion that there was more than one galaxy in the universe was revolutionary and earned Hubble the title as the greatest astronomer since Galileo.
He helped Albert Einstein
Discovering that our galaxy wasn’t alone was just the beginning for Hubble. He continued measuring distances and velocities in deep space, finding that the further apart galaxies are from each other, the faster they move away from one another. His findings, published in 1929, led to the widely accepted notion that the universe is expanding. Albert Einstein personally thanked Hubble for the support his findings gave to his theory of relativity.
He was a gifted athlete
Growing up in Missouri, Hubble’s focus wasn’t on space, but on the sports field. A gifted athlete, he stood out in basketball, football and baseball. He broke the state record in the high jump and ran track at the University of Chicago. An accomplished boxer, he once knocked out the German heavyweight champion.
He was a high school basketball coach
Although he didn’t discuss it much later in life, Hubble spent a year teaching physics, math, and Spanish at New Albany High School in Indiana. He also coached the school’s basketball team, leading a team of undefeated Bulldogs to the state tournament, where they came in third place. Although he taught for only a year, he left his mark at New Albany High. The students that year dedicated the yearbook to their beloved teacher “ever willing to cheer and help us both in school and on the field.”
He reinvented himself
Described as an “Adonis” by his friends, with looks that resembled Clark Gable, you would think Hubble would be pretty satisfied with the hand he drew. You’d be wrong. Eager to climb up the social ladder, he adopted a British accent (like the ones he heard while studying at Oxford University), sported a pipe and cape, and padded his CV (claiming he had handled legal cases in Kentucky when he had not).
He fought in two world wars
In 1917, Hubble enlisted in the army, just moments after finishing his Ph.D. After serving in France for a year, he returned to the United States, heading straight to the Mount Wilson Observatory in Pasadena, California, ready to resume his research. When World War II broke out, he would serve in the military again, this time helping the Army develop weapons technology.
He never won the Nobel Prize
Despite his accomplishments, Hubble never won the Nobel Prize in physics, since astronomers were ruled ineligible for the award (that rule has since changed). He has received other accolades, however. Both an asteroid and a Moon crater bear his name. But his most famous honor is the Hubble telescope, which launched in 1990. An instrument for the entire astronomical community, astronomers around the globe are invited to request time using the telescope. If their requests are accepted, they have a year to study their work before the data is released publicly. This system has yielded tremendous discoveries, such as the discovery of “dark energy” and revelations about the age of the universe (13 to 14 billion years).