Inside Water: The Life of Edwin Hubble
BRIDGEPORT, Pa. -- Not all water polo players have made their name in the water, nor have all players gone onto make a name which transcended the terrestial plane.
But for one player from the Heartland of America, his work and name have transcended the realm of science and Earth to stand apart for explaining that the Milky Way Galaxy is but one of an ever-growing number in the universe.
Born to Virginia Lee James, from Virginia City, Nevada, and John Powell Hubble, an insurance executive from Missouri, in Marshfield, Missouri on November 20, 1889 during a visit to his father's parents, Edwin Powell Hubble's family moved to Wheaton, Illinois, in 1898 to be closer to his father's offices in Chicago.
Renowned more for his athletic abilities as a child, including seven first and a third place finish at a high school track meet in 1906, Hubble achieved both athletic and academic success. Excelling in every subject except spelling, the Illinois state high jump record-holder for a number of years took an interest in fly-fishing and amateur boxing in his youth in addition to novels, including those of Jules Verne.
On his high school commencement day in 1906, the principal said, "Edwin Hubble, I have watched for four years and I have never seen you study for ten minutes." He then paused and continued, "Here is a scholarship to the University of Chicago."
However, by mistake, his high school scholarship was also awarded to another student, thus the money had to be halved, and Hubble had to supply the rest. He paid his expenses by tutoring and summer work, before earning a scholarship in physics and by working as a laboratory assistant to Robert Millikan in his junior year.
Excelling in mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy to earn a bachelor of science degree in 1910, he also performed well in athletics earning letters in track, boxing and basketball.
A member of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity at Chicago, and the organization's 1948 Kappa Sigma "Man of the Year", he spent the next four years after earning his bachelor's degree in England at Oxford University's Queens College as one of the first Rhodes Scholars.
It is at Oxford where he picked up the sport of water polo, competing for the university's team while continuing his academic studies. Originally a jurisprudence major, he changed his major to Spanish in which he earned a master's degree before returning to the United State in 1913.
Upon returning to North America, he acquired a position as a teacher of Spanish, physics, and mathematics at the New Albany High School in New Albany, Indiana. He also coached the boy's basketball team there in addition to earning admission as a member of the Kentucky bar association, practicing law for a year thereafter in Louisville.
He reported that at this time he "chucked the law for astronomy, and I knew that even if I were second-rate or third-rate, it was astronomy that mattered." Thus in 1914 he returned to the University of Chicago's Yerkes Observatory for postgraduate work leading to his doctoral degree in astronomy.
While finishing work for his doctorate early in 1917, Hubble was invited to join the staff of the Carnegie Institution's Mount Wilson Observatory, Pasadena, California, by founder George Ellery Hale. Although this was one of the greatest of astronomical opportunities, it came in April with World War I raging on. After sitting up all night to finish his Ph.D. thesis, and taking the oral examination the next morning, Hubble enlisted in the infantry and telegraphed the Observatory, "Regret cannot accept your invitation. Am off to the war."
He was commissioned a captain in the 343d Infantry, 86th Division and later became a major. He was sent to France where he served as a field and line officer. He returned to the United States in the summer of 1919, was mustered out in San Francisco, and went immediately to Pasadena's Mount Wilson Observatory where he remained with a few interruptions for the remainder of his life.
It is at Mount Wilson over the next
22 years that he changed the world's perspective of the universe as
he photographed the sky through the Hooker Telescope, then the most
powerful telescope in the world. Hubble identified Cepheid stars
within the Andromeda Nebula, and proved that they were outside of
the Milky Way galaxy, as part of identifying other galaxies to
affirm for the first time that our galaxy is one of millions within
Hubble also used the Hooker telescope to develop “Hubble’s Constant,” which defines the linear relationship between a galaxy’s distance and the speed with which it moves. Hubble noted that the farther apart galaxies are from each other, the faster they move apart, illustrating that the Universe is expanding uniformly. This conclusion helps to substantiate the “Big Bang” theory, which states that everything in the universe originated from a single point and dispersed from there.
In addition to his research, Hubble settled down and married Grace Burke on February 26, 1924, before the outbreak of World War II led to his relocation to the U.S. Army's Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. For his work there he received the Medal of Merit award in 1946 for "oustanding contribution and achievement in ballistics research."
After the end of World War II, he
returned to Mount Wilson to contribute to the design of the Hale
telescope and helped direct the building of the Palomar
Observatory, where he worked until his death from a cerebral
thrombosis (a spontaneous blood clot in his brain) on September 28,
1953 in San Marino, California. No funeral was held for him,
and his wife never revealed what happened to his body, taking the
secret to her grave.
Today, one of NASA's most advanced tools, the Hubble Telescope, serves as a legacy to the great astronomer. The Hubble mission began in 1990 when the telescope was launched to orbit the Earth outside of the atmosphere. It has since provided hundreds of thousands of images and helped researchers determine the age of the universe.
Ironically, the telescope that bears his name was revived in 1997 by another water polo player, as seven-time swimming and water polo All-America Steve Smith, who led the Stanford University Cardinal to two NCAA water polo championships, was the primary astronaut repair technician.