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Edwin Powell Hubble, hubble, toil and trouble

The space shuttle Atlantis successfully launched today on a mission to service the Hubble space telescope for the final time in its productive life. Over the years, the prolific Hubble has provided Earthlings with many incredible images. (Also, it’s really fun to say “hubble” out loud.  Try it. It rhymes with bubble! And double! And rubble! But not candy, tomato or miasma.) In an effort to keep up with Hubble’s output, Biography Resource Center provides Earthlings with no less than 13 narrative biographies of Edwin Hubble, the astronomer for whom the 19-year-old telescope is named.

Born in 1889 — the same year as Charlie Chaplin, Martin Heidegger, Adolf Hitler and Igor Sikorsky — Hubble led a wide and varied life prior to his first professional astronomer position.

At the University of Chicago, from which he graduated with a B.S. in 1910, Hubble distinguished himself in basketball, track, and boxing, having given up football, his high school specialty, at his mother’s request. He supplemented a small scholarship by tutoring and by working as a laboratory assistant to the physicist Robert A. Millikan. During summer vacations he worked as a member of a surveying crew in wilderness areas south of Lake Superior. Hubble next attended Queens College, Oxford, as a Rhodes scholar; he studied law and received a B.A. in jurisprudence in 1912. He also starred as a high jumper, as stroke for the Queen’s College crew, and as a heavyweight boxer of championship caliber (as attested by an exhibition match he fought with the French champion Georges Carpentier).

Returning to the United States in 1913, Hubble began practicing law in Kentucky, but after a year he returned to the University of Chicago to do graduate work in astronomy under Edwin B. Frost. He used a reflecting telescope at Yerkes Observatory to observe the first celestial object to bear his name: Hubble’s variable nebula, also known as NGC 2261. Hubble left Chicago in early 1917, after hastily completing the requirements for a Ph.D. degree, and enlisted in the United States Army. After attending officer’s training camp at Fort Sheridan, Ill., he was commissioned a captain of infantry in the Eighty-Sixth Division. Three months later, in December 1917, Hubble was promoted to major, and as such saw active duty in France. After the armistice he remained abroad, serving first as judge advocate on courts-martial, then as administrator for United States officers in British universities.

The Hubble space telescope’s life has been slightly less varied, but has inspired no less wide an array of inventions to maintain and support it. Not to mention some wonderful hi-def videos from NASA to help us stay on top of what’s up way up there.

Source: “Edwin Hubble.” Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 5: 1951-1955. American Council of Learned Societies, 1977.

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Posted on: May 11, 2009, 12:23 pm Category: Factoids Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

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