Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) was not your prototypical science nerd. He was a first class athlete and a soldier. He was a flamboyant extrovert who was delighted when he became famous.
Above all, Hubble was an extraordinary astronomer. He made two discoveries that changed the way that everyone – not just scientists – look at the cosmos.
One hundred years ago, most people believed that the Milky Way was the entire universe. But telescopes were picking up fuzzy objects out there that clearly weren’t stars. The fuzzy blobs were called nebulae. Astronomers didn’t know what they were or where they were.
In 1924, Edwin Hubble measured the distance of the Andromeda nebulae and discovered that it was nearly a million light years away – far beyond the Milky Way. Hubble declared that Andromeda is a galaxy. Indeed, ALL of the nebulae are galaxies. In one groundbreaking discovery, Hubble expanded our universe from one lonely galaxy to billions.
One hundred years ago, almost everyone assumed that the universe is eternal and unchanging. Albert Einstein refused to even consider the possibility that God’s perfect universe was in flux.
Not long after he discovered that nebulae are galaxies, Edwin Hubble began measuring how quickly these other galaxies are moving through space. Hubble was shocked to find that almost every galaxy was moving away from the Milky Way. And far-away galaxies were speeding away even faster than the nearer ones.
In 1929, Hubble published his findings. Even Einstein had to admit that our universe is expanding. That meant that in the past, it had to have been much smaller. Through careful measurement, Edwin Hubble had uncovered the true origin of the universe: the Big Bang.
A movie about Edwin Hubble would be great. A movie about the discoveries being made with the Hubble Space Telescope would be neat.
A documentary about astronauts making minor adjustments to the telescope sounds pretty uninteresting in comparison. That’s what this “Hubble” movie is about.
In the 1980s, NASA tackled the ambitious project of building the first orbiting telescope.
The Hubble telescope was launched in 1990 and the problems began immediately. The telescope was sending back blurry images. It needed repair.
NASA has had to send five space shuttle crews up to repair Hubble over the years. The most recent repair mission was 2009. The documentary does its best to show us how they did it.
Narrator Leonardo DiCaprio tries to explain the mechanical details of the astronauts’ project and the extraordinary danger of doing the repair in space but he fails at both tasks.
DiCaprio states that a small tear in any part of the spacesuit will cause all the air to rush out and instantly kill him. But since this has never happened to any astronaut – even Major Tom – it is hard to feel any real suspense.
Maybe 5 minutes of the documentary is spent showing us actual footage of deep space shot by the Hubble telescope. It is not clear that the project has uncovered any mysteries of the universe. We see a cloud near Orion’s Belt where new solar systems are being born. Neat, I guess. But not groundbreaking, and not befitting of Edwin Hubble’s awesome legacy.
“Hubble” doesn’t even convince the viewer that all the money and risk and burnt rocket fuel is worth it to keep the space telescope in operation. I am way more interested in cosmology than the average guy, and even I am not totally convinced that the Hubble Space Telescope was worth the investment.
With all due respect to Copernicus, Edwin Hubble is the most important astronomer in history. The Hubble is an overpriced telescope. And “Hubble” is a weak documentary.
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