Edwin Hubble


Edwin Hubble : biography

20 November 1889 – 28 September 1953

Other discoveries

Hubble discovered the asteroid 1373 Cincinnati on August 30, 1935. He also wrote The Observational Approach to Cosmology and The Realm of the Nebulae approximately during this time. Notable commentator Eric Swedin gives praise to Hubble, by stating that many of the technologies that are available today for detecting extraterrestrials would not have possible if it had not been for geniuses like Hubble.

In Popular Culture

The play "Creation’s Birthday", written by Cornell physicist Hasan Padamsee, tells Hubble’s life story.


Edwin Hubble was born to Virginia Lee James and John Powell Hubble, an insurance executive, in Marshfield, Missouri, and moved to Wheaton, Illinois, in 1900. In his younger days, he was noted more for his athletic prowess than his intellectual abilities, although he did earn good grades in every subject except for spelling. Edwin was a gifted athlete playing baseball, football, basketball, and he ran track in both high school and college. He played a variety of positions on the basketball court from center to shooting guard. In fact Hubble even led the University of Chicago ’s basketball team to their first conference title in 1907. He won seven first places and a third place in a single high school track and field meet in 1906. That year he also set the state high school record for the high jump in Illinois. Another of his personal interests was dry-fly fishing, and he practiced amateur boxing as well.World of Physics and The Cloudy Night Book

His studies at the University of Chicago were concentrated on mathematics, astronomy and philosophy, which led to a bachelor of science degree in 1910. Hubble also became a member of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity (and in 1948 was named the Kappa Sigma "Man of the Year"). He spent the three years at The Queen’s College, Oxford after earning his bachelors as one of the university’s first Rhodes Scholars, initially studying jurisprudence instead of science (as a promise to his dying father), and later added literature and Spanish, and earning his master’s degree.

In 1909, Hubble’s father moved his family from Chicago to Shelbyville, Kentucky, so that the family could live in a small town, ultimately settling in nearby Louisville. His father died in the winter of 1913, while Edwin was still in England, and in the summer of 1913, Edwin returned to care for his mother, two sisters, and younger brother, as did his brother William. The family moved once more to Everett Avenue, in Louisville’s Highlands neighborhood, to accommodate Edwin and William.

Hubble was also a dutiful son, who despite his intense interest in astronomy since boyhood, surrendered to his father’s request to study law, first at the University of Chicago and later at Oxford, though he managed to take a few math and science courses. After the death of his father in 1913, Edwin returned to the Midwest from Oxford, but did not have the motivation to practice law. So he taught Spanish, physics, and mathematics at the New Albany High School in New Albany, Indiana for a year before he resolved to start over, at the age of 25, to become a professional astronomer. He also coached the boys’ basketball team there. After a year of high-school teaching, he entered graduate school with the help of his former professor from the University of Chicago to study astronomy at the Yerkes Observatory of the University, where he received his PhD in 1917. His dissertation was titled .

When Congress declared war on Germany in 1917, Hubble rushed his dissertation for his PhD, volunteering for the United States Army and was assigned to the newly created 86th Division. He rose to the rank of Major and was found fit for overseas duty on July 9, 1918. The 86th Division never saw combat, and after the end of World War One Hubble spent a year in Cambridge, where he renewed his studies of Astronomy. In 1919, Hubble was offered a staff position in California by George Ellery Hale, the founder and director of the Carnegie Institution’s Mount Wilson Observatory, near Pasadena, California, where he remained on the staff until his death. Hubble also served in the U.S. Army at the Aberdeen Proving Ground during World War II. For his work there, he received the Legion of Merit award. Shortly before his death, Mount Palomar’s giant reflector Hale Telescope was completed, and Hubble was the first astronomer to use it. Hubble continued his research at the Mount Wilson and Mount Palomar Observatories, where he remained active until his death.

Although Hubble was raised as a Christian, he later became an agnostic.

Hubble experienced a heart attack in July 1949 while on vacation in Colorado. He was taken care of by his wife, Grace Hubble, and continued on a modified diet and work schedule. He died of 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 his burial site.

No Nobel Prize

Hubble spent much of the later part of his career attempting to have astronomy considered an area of physics, instead of being its own science. He did this largely so that astronomers—including himself—could be recognized by the Nobel Prize Committee for their valuable contributions to astrophysics. This campaign was unsuccessful in Hubble’s lifetime, but shortly after his death, the Nobel Prize Committee decided that astronomical work would be eligible for the physics prize. However, the prize is not one that can be awarded posthumously.

References and notes


On March 6, 2008, the United States Postal Service released a 41-cent stamp honoring Hubble on a sheet titled "American Scientists" designed by artist Victor Stabin. His citation reads: The other scientists on the "American Scientists" sheet include Gerty Cori, biochemist; Linus Pauling, chemist, and John Bardeen, physicist.