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Hubble's Variable Nebula (NGC 2261) and Edwin P. Hubble


Edwin P. Hubble (1889-1953) at Palomar Mountain
Image Courtesy of the Archives, California Institute of Technology

Edwin Powell Hubble is recognized as having been one of the foremost astronomers of the modern era. He attended college at the University of Chicago and studied law under a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford University. A change of heart led him to pursue astronomy, and he completed his PhD at Chicago's Yerkes Observatory in 1917.

In the 1920s, there was a serious debate over whether galaxies were part of our Milky Way Galaxy. Using the theoretical groundwork of Henrietta Swan-Leavitt and Harlow Shapley, Hubble's revolutionary observational work proved that galaxies are indeed "island universes." Hubble also outlined a classification system for galaxies that is still in use. His greatest discovery was the linear relationship between a galaxy's distance and the speed with which it is moving. The ratio of the two is known as the Hubble Constant.

Hubble's Variable Nebula (NGC 2261) was originally discovered by Sir William Herschel in 1783. In 1916, Edwin Hubble began studying the object, noting changes in the size, brightness, and structure of the nebula over a period of several months. Hubble wrote two scientific papers on the object for The Astrophysical Journal in 1916 and 1917 while he was a student at Yerkes Observatory. In 1948, Hubble's Variable Nebula was the first astronomical object to be observed with the Palomar 200" telescope (pictured above).

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