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September 3, 2010 > The Day We Found the Universe

The Day We Found the Universe

A Book Review By Robert A. Garfinkle

When the last century began, we knew of only one galaxy, our own Milky Way. By the close of the century in the year 2000, we now know that the universe consists of hundreds of billions of galaxies and that the universe is at least 14 billion years old. How we went from one to hundreds of billions of galaxies in one hundred years is the fascinating tale told in this book by award-winning science writer, Marcia Bartusiak.

Ms. Bartusiak outlines the progress made by astronomers in the early years of the twentieth century to figure out what exactly were the dim glowing spiral-looking objects they could see in their telescopes. Heated controversy among astronomers arose; were these fuzzy objects part of the Milky Way or were they separate Island Universes?

One of these pioneering astronomers was Vesto Slipher. Working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, he has spent many hours over several nights guiding the telescope to take a single spectrogram of the Andromeda Galaxy. He was searching for any sign of motion and discovered that the fuzzy object was in fact rotating; the spectrum shifted when compared to standard laboratory spectrograms. Another noteworthy researcher, Henrietta Leavitt at the Harvard College Observatory, discovered the relationship between luminosity and period of variable stars known as Cepheid Variables. This discovery would later play a role in determining the vast distances to the Andromeda Galaxy. The author also writes about Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble, and Georges Lema”tre, a few of the players on this astronomical stage.

What date is considered the day we found the universe? January 1, 1925, the day that Edwin Hubble announced his observations that established that the universe contained thousands of galaxies similar to our own Milky Way. We were not along anymore. The book covers both the events leading up to this announcement and how astronomers accepted Hubble's findings.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Ms. Bartusiak's presentation. As an aside, one of the first astronomy books that I reviewed, over 20 years ago, was her first book, Thursday's Universe. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in outer space, whether you are an astronomer or just have an interest in this subject. You will not be disappointed.


The Day We Found the Universe
by Marcia Bartusiak, 2009
Pp 337
$27.95, hardback
Pantheon Books (ISBN 978-0-375-42429-8)

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