Was the real discovery of the expanding universe lost in translation?

November 9, 2011, ESA/Hubble Information Centre
This illustration shows American astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) on the right and Belgian priest and cosmologist Georges Lemaître (1894-1966) on the left. Based on new evidence, both scientists should share credit for independently uncovering evidence for the expanding universe in the late 1920s. Lemaître is also credited with proposing a theory for the origin of the universe that would later be called the "big bang." The telescope on the left is the 100-inch Hooker Telescope on Mt. Wilson in California. The Hubble Space Telescope is on the right. Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI)

(PhysOrg.com) -- The greatest astronomical discovery of the 20th century may have been credited to the wrong person. But it turns out to have been nobody's fault except for that of the actual original discoverer himself.

Writing in the November 10th issue of the journal Nature, astrophysicist Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute has put to bed a growing conspiracy theory about who was fairly credited for discovering the expanding universe.

For nearly a century, American astronomer Edwin P. Hubble has held the fame for this landmark discovery, which would recast all of 20th century astronomy. Hubble reported that the universe is uniformly expanding in all directions. It solved Einstein's dilemma of explaining why the universe didn't already collapse under its own gravity.

Ironically, Hubble never got a Nobel Prize for this discovery, though astronomers from two teams who independently uncovered evidence for an accelerating universe won the 2011 Noble Prize in Physics. But Hubble did get the most celebrated telescope of modern history named after him.

Hubble published his landmark paper in which he determined the rate of expansion of the universe in 1929. This was based on the apparent recessional velocities (deduced from redshifts) of galaxies, as previously measured by astronomer Vesto Slipher, coupled to distances to the same galaxies, as determined by Hubble.

Hubble's analysis showed that the farther the galaxy was, the faster it appeared to be receding. The rate of cosmic expansion is now known as the Hubble Constant.

But two years earlier, a Belgian priest and cosmologist, Georges Lemaître, published very similar conclusions, and he calculated a rate of expansion similar to what Hubble would publish two years later.

Lemaître based his analysis on Slipher's same redshift data, which he combined with estimates of galaxy distances inferred from Hubble's 1926 published observations.

But Lemaître's discovery went unnoticed because it was published in French, in a rather obscure Belgian science journal called the Annales de la Société Scientifique de Bruxelles (Annals of the Brussels Scientific Society).

The story would have ended there, except that Lemaître's work was later translated and published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. When published in 1931, some of Lemaître's own calculations from 1927, of what would be later called the Hubble Constant, were omitted!

The fact that paragraphs were missing from the translated paper has been known (although not widely) since 1984. There has been persistent speculation among astronomers over "who dunnit?" Did the Monthly Notices editors cut the paragraphs out? Did Edwin Hubble himself have an influencing hand and censor the paper to eliminate any doubt that he was the original discoverer of the expanding universe?

After going through hundreds of pieces of correspondence of the Royal Astronomical Society, as well as minutes of the RAS meetings, and material from the Lemaître Archive, Livio has discovered that Lemaître omitted the passages himself when he translated the paper into English!

In one of two "smoking-gun letters" uncovered by Livio, Lemaître wrote to the editors: "I did not find advisable to reprint the provisional discussion of radial velocities which is clearly of no actual interest, and also the geometrical note, which could be replaced by a small bibliography of ancient and new papers on the subject."

The remaining question is why Lemaître essentially erased evidence for credit due to him, for first discovering (at least tentatively) the expanding universe.

Livio concludes, "Lemaître's letter also provides an interesting insight into the scientific psychology of some of the scientists of the 1920s. Lemaître was not at all obsessed with establishing priority for his original discovery. Given that Hubble's results had already been published in 1929, he saw no point in repeating his more tentative earlier findings again in 1931."

Perhaps in some alternative history parallel universe, people are marveling at the deep-space pictures from the Lemaître Space Telescope.

Explore further: Web abuzz with claims that Hubble sought to censor Lemaitre's paper

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1.9 / 5 (18) Nov 09, 2011
The greatest astronomical discovery of the 20th century may have been credited to the wrong person.

The thrill of making a discovery ("awakening" to reality) is not under anyone's control.

Assigning anyone credit for a discovery probably ignores the dominant role of coincidence or serendipity.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo
5 / 5 (3) Nov 09, 2011
The two discovery dates are so close to each other. That suggests that if neither of these two found the expansion, someone else would have done so within a few years.
3.5 / 5 (6) Nov 09, 2011
It all reminds me of the 'discovery' / invention of calculus: Newton and Leibniz. Their cultures, the timing, their views on life. All coming together as they did to produce two minds that saw the same vision and came to the same solution. We have the web now and can reckon time-of-discovery down to seconds. One person gets the prize the other gets nothing. THAT aspect of modern technology plays too well into corporate hands and ignores the historical fact that Mother Nature, Fate, or call it God or the Infinite Universe/Multiverses do NOT care that a lonesome local boy makes a staggering discovery in his garage or basement instead of some doctorate at ginormous IBM or at the LHC-CERN...!
WE may need something newer, a prize for scientific discovery that recognizes the spirit of genius and invention in a socially networked Universe. It will recognize it no matter where it is, who it is, and do it by putting a name in lights for a day or a year..think of something..
3 / 5 (6) Nov 10, 2011
This is not really new data. This subject has been discussed in popular level Astronomy and Physics books for at least 20 years. Not the part about omitting paragraphs, but about Sliphers' observations and Lamaitres' explanation of them. No disrespect to Hubble, but his assistant Milton Hummason apparently did the majority of the observational work used in Hubbles' papers. A wealth of information on this subject awaits anyone who chooses to pursue it. Great stuff!
1.6 / 5 (12) Nov 10, 2011
The actual reason may be quite different, because Hubble was proponent of tired light model of red shift (i.e. this one, which dense aether model is preferring too) - whereas Lamaitre searched for evidence of God's creation of Universe, being a catholic priest.


General relativity doesn't enable to predict the speed of Universe expansion or collapse - both solutions are equally probable in it (Friedmann 1922).
5 / 5 (4) Nov 10, 2011
Neutron repulsion causes dense aether model... :(
Very tired of u 2...
not rated yet Nov 10, 2011
It's everybody's discoveries. We all build on each other's giving and sacrifice and we all can learn through adversity, yet we need to keep the peace. Peace seems to be an important thing to teach these days; how it works, how to practice it, how to apply it, and how to teach it. The world needs peacemakers right now pretty bad.

There are many barriers stopping life from getting where we need to go, to stars if necessary, whatever it takes, to preserve life. There are many protests going on trying to solve the problems of the world in a peaceful manner. Please pay attention to it, as there are many other's that understand the gravity of the situation. All of you are involved in very important stuff. Where you may not have time or the availability to focus on something else, I respectfully request you put what you do in high gear and give it all to what you are doing that is of value and break down the barriers before you.
not rated yet Nov 10, 2011
Do it together and support each other. Even if the political, economic, and ecological issues are solved by others breaking down other barriers, we will need those discoveries you are all working on.

Learn how to keep the peace and do it
Identify and breakdown the barriers in the way of your discoveries.
Lets make it to the other side.
2.6 / 5 (10) Nov 10, 2011
Oliver Manuel's recent efforts to plaster Physorg.com and other public news sites with his theories and personal URLs are a bit puzzling, as scientists have a variety of publications available to communicate directly to each other in. My best guess is that he is desperately trying to prop up his legacy in light of his arrest in his university office on 7 charges of rape and sodomy based on allegations by 4 of his own children. The charges have been reduced to one count of felony attempted sodomy, not necessarily because of his innocence, but because of the statute of limitations. One can only guess how the recent charges and decades of family strife have affected his ability to reason rationally and to remain objective while defending his unpopular theories.



5 / 5 (2) Nov 12, 2011
Livio concludes, "Lemaître's letter also provides an interesting insight into the scientific psychology of some of the scientists of the 1920s. Lemaître was not at all obsessed with establishing priority for his original discovery. Given that Hubble's results had already been published in 1929, he saw no point in repeating his more tentative earlier findings again in 1931."

A true scientist. That's what it's all about.
1 / 5 (1) Nov 19, 2011
Now we know universe is expanding and there may be multi universes too. If Duality exists in nature and universe than there would be a cycle of cotracting universe. Nothing is constant and everlasting in unuverse other than may be pure energy from which atomic and subatomics particles are borne. We know very little of universe now , but we may learn more with more idea and more research.
not rated yet Nov 21, 2011
All scientist know is just a one day of a long journey.
1 / 5 (2) Nov 21, 2011
Now we know universe is expanding
We only know, in visible light the more distant galaxies exhibit red shift, in microwave light this shift is zero and for radiowaves is negative. That's everything what we know about it in this moment.

It's as simple as it is and everything else is speculation.

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