Originally printed in the Nov. 20, 2002 edition of the Illinois Valley News
Humans have always looked up into the night sky and wondered what is there and how it all works. Patterns have been noticed and the reasons for the patterns have been deduced. The invention of the telescope greatly improved the understanding of space but it also brought up more problems that needed to be solved. It seems as though the more we learn about space, the more we find out we don’t yet know.
Telescopes are usually located at high elevations, away from cities, smog, and weather conditions which prevent good visibility.
On April 25, 1990 the Hubble Telescope was deployed into orbit around the earth from the Shuttle, Discovery. The reason was that above the atmosphere, visibility would be better than anywhere on earth. Hubble has a 95-inch diameter primary mirror that allows it to collect light from vast distances and form clearer pictures. A flaw in the mirror mechanism was corrected by a shuttle servicing mission in 1993.
Another servicing mission in 1997 and two more in December 1999 have made the Hubble Telescope extremely efficient and reliable for space studies. Cameras, computers and other instruments convert the images to radio signals sent back to the earth where new discoveries are announced frequently. One of the latest discoveries has been a Black Hole in the center of our Milky Way Galaxy.
The telescope was named to honor Edwin P. Hubble, an American astronomer, who was born Nov. 20, 1889 in Marshfield, Missouri. His family moved to the Chicago area when he was nine and he attended high school and college in the Chicago area. His main achievements were in the field of athletics, particularly track and basketball, not science. He then received a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford in England where he also did well in athletics and studied to become a lawyer.
On returning to the USA he taught one year of high school and decided going back to college would be better. Mathematics and then astronomy became his emphasis for his doctorate degree in 1917 from the University of Chicago. Because of his efforts and success in college he obtained a position at Mt. Wilson Observatory near Los Angeles and later went to Mt. Palomar near San Diego when that telescope was built.
His studies at the observatories involved galaxies, which are large collections of stars. He observed, in the 1930s, that light coming to the earth from other galaxies had a slight change in its frequency toward the red, or weaker end of the spectrum, called the Red Shift.
Hubble also noticed that the more distant the galaxy is, the greater is its red shift. This means that the farther the galaxy is away, the faster it is moving. This evidence for the expansion of the Universe has led to the creation of the Big Bang Theory: That all matter in the Universe was at one time compressed into a very small space and is still exploding.
However, the ratio of distance to speed, which Hubble discovered, called the Hubble Constant, is not constant. This ratio has been changed before and even today using the Hubble Telescope, astronomers get different numbers for the ratio of distance vs. rate of expansion, but they all agree that it is expanding, not stationary. The distances in space are not easily measured but the objects in space are still fascinating and make the night sky a beautiful view.