Bartusiak (Science Writing/MIT; Archives of the Universe, 2004, etc.) chronicles one of the greatest astronomical discoveries of the modern age, paying close attention to all the scientists who made it possible.
On Jan. 1, 1925, 35-year-old astronomer Edwin Hubble announced findings that indicated the universe was much larger than previously thought—a quadrillion times larger—and filled with other galaxies. It was a milestone in astronomical science, and in the human understanding of the cosmos. Bartusiak explores the technical aspects of Hubble’s findings in an accessible way and skillfully profiles the many researchers who helped lay the groundwork for Hubble’s momentous discovery. James Keeler at the Lick Observatory in California, for example, discovered what appeared to be faint, spiraling clouds among the stars. Several years later, another Lick astronomer guessed that these were actually galaxies, but he had no definite proof. Other scientists, including Henrietta Leavitt and Harlow Shapley, provided additional crucial pieces of the puzzle, and the author ably rescues these neglected figures from historical obscurity. The brilliant Hubble put all these pieces together with his own findings. Later, he was among the first to theorize that the vast universe was in fact expanding ever outward; here too Bartusiak tells the stories of predecessors who prepared the way for this idea, including astronomers Vesto Slipher and Georges Lemaître. The author lays out the technical minutiae in a consistently clear fashion, at the same time bringing many of the scientists to vivid life. Missouri-born Hubble, for instance, often affected an upper-crust British accent in company; quirky astronomer Percival Lowell once listed his residence as “cosmos” in a friend’s guest book.
A dynamic journey through an important period in the history of astronomy.