History and Biography of Astronomers: Shapley, Hubble, and Jansky

About the history and biography of astronomers Shapley, Hubble, and Jansky, the developments of new technology in astronomy.

The Astronomers

Harlow Shapley (1885-1972), who had started out to be a newspaper reporter but turned to astronomy, used these discoveries and his own observations of ball-like clumps of stars called globular clusters to map our galaxy.

The discovery that our galaxy is not limitless led to the discovery of galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Edwin P. Hubble (1889-1953), using the 60" and 100" telescopes at Mount Wilson, discovered not only many new galaxies but that most of them were moving away from us--we are in an expanding universe which, perhaps, began 5 billion years ago.

Sizes of these foreign galaxies were established by Walter Baade (1893-1960) working during 1942 and 1943 in war-darkened Los Angeles. Baade also discovered that there were 2 generations of stars, one old, one new. This led to the analysis of a star's evolution from birth to either death by super explosion or its transformation into a white dwarf or neutron star.

Radioastronomy gave astronomers insights unsuspected by ordinary optical telescopes. Radioastronomy was discovered accidentally by a Bell telephone engineer, Karl Jansky (1905-1950), in 1931 as he was attempting to find the causes of radio interference. Radioastronomy might have disappeared but for the interest of one amateur, Grote Reber (1911- ), who built and operated his own instrument in his Illinois backyard during the '30s and' 40s.

During W. W. II a Dutch astronomer, Hendrik van de Hulst (1918- ), made some calculations--the only astronomy he could engage in, since The Netherlands was occupied at the time by the Germans. His calculations showed that hydrogen could emit radiation at the 21-cm. wave length. In 1951, this "song of hydrogen," as it came to be called, was discovered. Using it, Jan Oort (1900- ), Dutch galactic expert, mapped out our galaxy, producing the picture we have today of a sta? system with long, sweeping arms.

Another discovery made with the radio telescope is the presence of such familiar earth molecules as ammonia, methane, formaldehyde, and water in interstellar space. The radio telescope also led to the discovery of quasars, strong radio emitters, and pulsars, very regular radio emitters. In 1960, Allan Sandage (1926- ) announced the 1st discovery of a star that acted as a radio source, a very dim object easily overlooked except for its being pinpointed by the radio telescope. Three years later, Maarten Schmidt (1929- ) studied the spectrum of another quasar and recognized a tremendous, and never before realized, "red shift," the measure by which astronomers tell the speed at which galaxies and stars move. So large was the red shift that the quasar had to be the farthest object recorded up to that time.

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