this page honors Edwin Powell Hubble (1889-1953)

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The realm of the nebulæ, by Edwin Hubble. Yale University Press, ©1936.

The Hubble atlas of galaxies, by Allan Sandage. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Publication 618, 1961, reprinted 1984.

Now it's common knowledge that the universe consists of an unimaginably large number of galaxies in addition to our own Milky Way galaxy. However, it wasn't until 1924 when Edwin Hubble established that what looked like clouds within our galaxy were actually separate galaxies. He went on to prove that the space between the individual galaxies is vast, and by the 1930s he was able to calculate that faint objects were as far as 500 million light years away. Space is deep indeed!

In 1936, Edwin Hubble and his colleague Milton Humason went on to create a classification system for galaxies that groups them into elliptical shapes, spirals, barred spirals, and irregular shapes.

In his book The realm of the nebulæ, Hubble begins his discussion of the cosmos by describing the ways that theorists and observers perform scientific research. As he put it, "The present writer is primarily an observer."

Edwin Hubble was a diligent observer whose work at Mount Wilson Observatory with Humason, Walter Baade, Allan Sandage, and others helped to prove that the universe was not static with the stars fixed firmly in place. Instead, the universe is expanding and the distance between the galaxies is growing larger all the time.


"Now the observable region is our sample of the universe. If the sample is fair, its observed characteristics will determine the physical nature of the universe as a whole."

"Science attempts to discover the actual world we inhabit. So in cosmology, theory presents an infinite array of possible universes, and observation is eliminating them, class by class, until now the different types among which our particular universe must be included have become increasingly comprehensible."

"The early work was justified largely by the internal consistency of the results. The foundations were firmly established, but the superstructure represented considerable extrapolations. These were tested in every way that could be devised, but the tests for the most part concerned internal consistency. The ultimate acceptance of the superstructure was due to the steady accumulation of consistent results rather than to critical and definitive experiments."

"The velocity-distance relation is not merely a powerful aid to research, it is also a general characteristic of our sample of the universe — one of the very few that are known."

"Thus the explorations of space end on a note of uncertainty. And necessarily so. We are, by definition, in the very center of the observable region. We know our immediate neighborhood rather intimately. With increasing distance, our knowledge fades, and fades rapidly. Eventually, we reach the dim boundary — the utmost limits of our telescopes. There, we measure shadows, and we search among ghostly errors of measurement for landmarks that are scarcely more substantial."

"The search will continue. Not until the empirical resources are exhausted, need we pass on to the dreamy realms of speculation."

All of these quotations are from The realm of the nebulæ, by Edwin Hubble.