Great Physicists: The Life and Times of Leading Physicists from Galileo to Hawking

By William H. Cropper | Go to book overview

27
Beyond the Galaxy
Edwin Hubble

Missourian

Edwin Hubble was a man with grand aspirations, and to a remarkable degree he attained his goals. As a pioneer in the observation of realms lying beyond our galaxy, he became the preeminent astronomer of his time, and indeed of the twentieth century. His astronomical observations gave us the first glimpse of our modern cosmology based on a universe whose space is expanding. He married into a wealthy southern California family, and counted among his friends many from the California intellectual elite.

But the successes came with a price. As he rose through the social and economic strata, Hubble reinvented himself, sometimes with dubious credentials. There was a discontinuity between the one Hubble, with an ordinary midwestern background, and the other, a wealthy Anglophile who mingled with the Hollywood greats. Along the way, Hubble partly disowned his family members, not allowing any of them to meet his wife or her family. Hubble's youngest sister, Betsy, said in an interview, “I always wondered if Edwin didn't feel guilty about not having done more [for his family]. But great men have to go their own way. There is bound to be some trampling. We never minded.” Some of his colleagues considered him “arrogant and self-serving,” and blocked one of the prizes he coveted most, directorship of the great Mount Palomar Observatory.

Hubble was handsome almost to a fault. He was tall, athletic, usually equipped with a pipe, and as an admiring neighbor put it, “very, very masculine.” Anita Loos, a writer best known for her novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and the Broadway production of the same title, would not have hired him to play the part of a famous astronomer: “You can't have him look like a blooming Clark Gable!”

He was born in 1889, far from the scenes of his triumphs, in Marshfield, Missouri. Edwin was the third of seven surviving children, three boys and four girls. Their father, John, was trained in the legal profession, but preferred the insurance business and all the traveling that went with it. His wife, Virginia Lee (“Jennie”) James, seems to have tolerated John's many absences by living close to her parents in Marshfield. Edwin Hubble's biographer Gale Christianson provides this

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Great Physicists: The Life and Times of Leading Physicists from Galileo to Hawking
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents v
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • I - Historical Synopsis 3
  • 1 - How the Heavens Go 5
  • 2 - A Man Obsessed 18
  • II - Historical Synopsis 41
  • 3 - A Tale of Two Revolutions 43
  • 4 - On the Dark Side 51
  • 5 - A Holy Undertaking 59
  • 6 - Unities and a Unifier 71
  • 7 - The Scientist as Virtuoso 78
  • 8 - The Road to Entropy 93
  • 9 - The Greatest Simplicity 106
  • 10 - The Last Law 124
  • III - Historical Synopsis 135
  • 11 - A Force of Nature 137
  • 12 - The Scientist as Magician 154
  • IV - Historical Synopsis 177
  • 13 - Molecules and Entropy 179
  • V - Historical Synopsis 201
  • 14 - Adventure in Thought 203
  • VI - Historical Synopsis 229
  • 15 - Reluctant Revolutionary 231
  • 16 - Science by Conversation 242
  • 17 - The Scientist as Critic 256
  • 18 - Matrix Mechanics 263
  • 19 - Wave Mechanics 275
  • VII - Historical Synopsis 293
  • 20 - Opening Doors 295
  • 21 - On the Crest of a Wave 308
  • 22 - Physics and Friendships 330
  • 23 - Complete Physicist 344
  • VIII - Historical Synopsis 363
  • 24 - Iγ·∂ψ = Mψ 365
  • 25 - What Do You Care? 376
  • 26 - Telling the Tale of the Quarks 403
  • IX - Historical Synopsis 421
  • 27 - Beyond the Galaxy 423
  • 28 - Ideal Scholar 438
  • 29 - Affliction, Fame, and Fortune 452
  • Chronology of the Main Events 464
  • Glossary 469
  • Invitation to More Reading 478
  • Index 485
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