As he strolled towards the observatory, Edwin Powell Hubble gazed at the night sky, searching for the tell-tale clouds, a habit he’d developed when he’d started out as a staff member at the observatory four years ago. The clouds that had only an hour ago threatened to empty themselves onto the land had been whisked away, leaving the sky dark, clear, and hungry for stars. Pleased that he needn’t be disappointed of murky clouds spoiling his observation time, he walked up the steps of the Mount Wilson Observatory and into the 100-inch telescope room. The observatory itself rested just north-east of Los Angeles, on the peak of Mount Wilson that nestled comfortably amongst thick wilderness, offering a clear, unprecedented view to the stars.
The timelapse taken from the UCLA Tower Cam located on Mount Wilson, facing the Mt. Wilson Observatory. 2009. youtube.com. Web. 11 Mar. 2018.
Even with the large telescope loomed at the center of the room, it was spacious enough to walk around. The mercury floats that supported the telescope’s 100 ton weight and the special six meter interferometer did the telescope every justice to its world’s largest and most powerful status. The 100-foot of solid steel that arched around the room protected it from the chilly winds that slapped outside and the slow but steady growth in the Californian light pollution. After rolling the dome a foot wide and focusing the 100-inch towards his target for the night, Hubble set down to work.
Carnegie/ Huntington Library. Hubble guiding Mount Wilson’s 100-inch Telescope in 1924, shortly after he proved the existence of distant galaxies. nd. mtwilson.edu. Web. 11 Mar. 2018.
It was peak summer, but that hadn’t stopped his fellow astronomers to endlessly debate on Milky Way’s lonely lifestyle. Whether or not the galaxy made up the entire universe seemed to be on everyone’s minds just then. Including his. Many of his colleagues firmly believed that Milky Way was all there was to the universe. Their discussions had gone on to such lengths that the whole matter was christened as The Great Debate. The question was important indeed. But he didn’t see the point in lashing out and betting his life’s worth just to put in his opinion.
With quick, clever hands he adjusted the eyepiece and focused on Andromeda and its sea of stars. It was night enough and dark enough for the stars to shine powerfully. A fuzzy smudge of clouds in one of Andromeda’s arms caught his attention. Happily unaware that he was about to put an end to The Great Debate, and start countless ones, he began to measure the clouds’ distance which dimmed and brightened with regular intervals. If he wasn’t mistaken, he thought as he noted down the distance, it was a Cepheid that had caught his eye. They were yet another interesting class to think about. The way they changed in luminosity and diameter was fascinating. As if they had a life of their own. But then, most of the astronomical observations –
He narrowed his eyes at his notes, and swore. The distance was too huge for it to be located in the Milky Way. He started blankly into his notes, unsure to be terrified or thrilled. He finally managed to look through the eyepiece once more, into the Cepheid and rechecked his calculations. They seemed alright.
If what he was thinking was true, then…no, not yet. He had to be sure. When it came to answering the question everyone was currently obsessed with, he had to be very, very sure. He couldn’t yet disclose his findings to the community that strongly believed Andromeda to be a harmless nebula inside the Milky Way. So he set to work. Night after night, he hunted down the variable stars in the Andromeda, not unlike a wolf hunting its prey.
It wasn’t until October that he had the first good plates of the Andromeda. He had managed to find three novae, and in one of them resided a faint, almost undetectable cepheid. But it was there alright.
He set about comparing his observations to George’s plates taken 15 years ago of the same patch of the nebula. No, he thought grimly as the looked at the answers in front of him. Given the direction in which this was going, the scientific community, hell, the whole world was in for a shock.
It took him a further full week to confirm distances of a few more variable stars. When he had finally finished, he let out a low whistle.
“Andromeda Nebula,” he said, his voice barely steady, “you are about to get a new surname.”
After ascertaining that Andromeda was not a nebula in the Milky Way, but an entire galaxy of its own, Edwin Hubble went on to measure redshifts for eighteen galaxies and determined them to be moving away, which laid the foundations for the Big Bang Theory.
- 100-inch Telescope Centennial Event at the Mt. Wilson Observatory – Nik Arkimovich’s Talk.
- Building the 100-inch Telescope – Mt. Wilson Observatory.
- Measuring the Cepheid’s Distance – Henrietta Leavitt’s Work.