EDWIN HUBBLE: Mariner of the Nebulae by Gale E. Christianson
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EDWIN HUBBLE: Mariner of the Nebulae

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This biography of the astronomer for whom the space telescope is named offers a fascinating view of how the scientific elite lived in the period between the world wars. Born in Marshfield, Mo., in 1889, Hubble was an outstanding student and athlete at the University of Chicago and won a Rhodes scholarship. On his return home from Oxford, he made a perfunctory pass at the legal career his late father had urged upon him, but he soon committed himself to studying astronomy. His scientific career (briefly interrupted by WW I) went into full swing when he moved to Mt. Wilson observatory in California and was able to use the 100-inch telescope, then the finest in the world, to study the galaxies (which he insisted on calling ""nebulae""). He quickly became recognized as the preeminent astronomer of his time. A dedicated Anglophile after his Oxford years, he seized every opportunity to take his wife, Grace, on European junkets, much to the annoyance of his colleagues at Mt. Wilson. An egotistical snob, according to science biographer Christianson (History/Appalachian State Univ.; Writing Lives is the Devil, 1993) the aristocratic-looking Hubble seems to have cut off relations with his family after his move to California, preferring to hobnob with the likes of Einstein, Chaplin, and Aldous Huxley. He feuded with rival astronomers and had no interest in administrative work. Yet his contributions to astronomy are without peer: He established not only that our galaxy is but one of innumerable similar star systems filling the universe in every observable direction, but that these galaxies are receding from one another at speeds proportional to their distances--the famous ""red shift."" Only Hubble's death in 1953 prevented his receiving a Nobel Prize in Physics--there being none in astronomy. A well-researched, well-informed, and revealing study of its complex, brilliant subject and his times, this is one of the most impressive scientific biographies of recent years.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0226105210
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"