Thursday, 13 September 2007

Science Hero of the Week

As long as there has been religion there have been dissenters but for hundreds of years all that atheists had to support their views were questions - gaps in the theology. But as we began to understand better the world around us, through science, we could see that there were alternative creation stories that could be written - ones that did not require divine intervention.

It's easy to build a case for atheism these days, largely due to the development of our understanding of evolution and cosmology. Together, they provide an elegant and satisfying description of how we and the universe got this way. Early man's explanation - that a god did it - was the best fit he could find with the evidence he had. We have rather more material to work with now, and it is learning about these new facts that led me to declare myself an atheist. Many great scientists provided us with these pieces of evidence and I would like to highlight their achievements here, beginning with Edwin Hubble.

Yes, he is the guy after whom the Hubble Telescope is named. He was an astronomer in the early 20th century and he advanced our knowledge of the universe in two astounding ways. He made the discovery that there was more to the universe than our own Milky Way galaxy. He demonstrated that the fuzzy blob in the sky that had been called, until that point, the Andromeda nebula was in fact a galaxy . This discovery overnight made the known universe a whole lot bigger.

Further research by Hubble and others found more and more galaxies and he developed a classification scheme for them - known as the Hubble Tuning Fork . After ten years of observing galaxies and determining their speeds, using their redshift , he demonstrated that the universe was expanding .

After these discoveries, we would never think of ourselves and the world around us in the same way. What a contribution! What a brain!

He should have won a Nobel Prize for his work but in those days astronomy was not counted as physics and so he was not eligible. But his name has now been immortalised in the Hubble Space Telescope, which for seventeen years has been taking spectacular photographs of deep space and adding immeasurably to our knowledge of the cosmos. Hubble has taken many fabulous and beautiful images but the most amazing must be the recently taken Ultra Deep Field which covers a tiny patch of sky but contains 10,000 galaxies - mind-boggling. See the image for yourselves below.

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