A Relation between Distance and Radial Velocity among Extra-Galactic Nebulae.

[Washington, D.C.]: Carnegie Institution, 1929.

First edition, a copy of the very rare offprint with outstanding provenance, of Hubble’s landmark paper, which “made as great a change in man’s conception of the universe as the Copernican revolution 400 years before” (DSB). This paper “is generally regarded as marking the discovery of the expansion of the universe” (Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers). It established what would later become known as Hubble’s Law: that galaxies recede from us in all directions and more distant ones recede more rapidly in proportion to their distance. “… the repercussions were immense. The galaxies were not randomly dashing through the cosmos, but instead their speeds were mathematically related to their distances, and when scientists see such a relationship they search for a deeper significance. In this case, the significance was nothing less than the realization that at some point in history all the galaxies in the universe had been compacted into the same small region. This was the first observational evidence to hint at what we now call the Big Bang” (Simon Singh, Big Bang). Hubble’s “result has come to be regarded as the outstanding discovery in twentieth-century astronomy” (DSB).

Provenance: Herbert McLean Evans (1882-1971), anatomist, endocrinologist and bibliophile (bookplate); Important Scientific Books: The Richard Green Library, Christie’s, New York, 17 June 2008, lot 185.

In the early 1920s most astronomers believed that the universe was static and unchanging on the large scale. Einstein himself had introduced his ‘cosmological constant’ in 1917 to allow solutions of the equations of general relativity corresponding to a static universe. Two such solutions were found: Einstein’s matter-filled universe and Willem de Sitter’s empty universe. The latter model attracted much interest because it predicted redshifts for very distant objects, something which had been observed as early as 1912 by Vesto Slipher. However, De Sitter’s model was conceived by astronomers to be no less static than Einstein’s. In 1922 Alexander Friedmann developed a model of an evolutionary universe, which could be expanding, and this was re-discovered by Georges Lemaître in 1927. But Lemaître went further: he established theoretically the proportional relationship between the rate of expansion and distance. Important as these theoretical developments were, it was only observational data that could establish which of the models, if any, corresponded to the actual universe.

Edwin Powell Hubble (1889-1953) “was born in 1889 in Missouri. As a young man, he was tall and athletic, known especially for his talent at boxing, basketball, and track. He earned an undergraduate degree in math and astronomy at the University of Chicago, and then studied law at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, following his father’s wishes. Hubble returned to the US and joined the Kentucky bar, but quickly decided law wasn’t for him. He taught high school Spanish for a year before heading back to the University of Chicago to earn his PhD in astronomy in 1917. After serving in the Army in World War I, he went to southern California to work at the Mt. Wilson observatory, home of the 100-inch Hooker telescope, the largest in the world at the time.

“In the early 1920s many astronomers believed that objects then known as nebulae were nearby gas clouds in our own galaxy, and that the Milky Way was the entire universe, while others thought the nebulae were actually more distant ‘island universes’ separate from our own galaxy.

“At Mt. Wilson, Hubble began measuring the distances to nebulae to try to resolve the issue, using a method based on an earlier discovery by Henrietta Leavitt. She had found that a type of star known as a Cepheid variable had a predictable relationship between its luminosity and its pulsation rate. Measuring the period of the star’s fluctuations in brightness would give its absolute brightness, and comparing that with the star’s apparent brightness would yield a measure of the star’s distance.

“Hubble found he was able to resolve Cepheid variables in the Andromeda nebula, showing that the nebula was in fact a separate galaxy rather than a gas cloud within the Milky Way. He also showed that the galaxy was much farther away than previously thought, greatly expanding our view of the universe. Hubble announced the finding on January 1, 1925 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington DC.

“Following the ground-breaking announcement, Hubble continued measuring the distances to far away astronomical objects, measurements that in a few years would lead to a discovery with even more radical implications for cosmology.

“It was already known that nebulae appeared redder than they should be. Astronomers, notably Vesto Slipher, had found that the light from most nebulae was red-shifted, indicating that most of the nebulae were receding at high speeds. But it wasn’t understood why other galaxies would all appear to be moving away from us.

“Hubble continued his meticulous astronomical measurements. He collaborated with Milton Humason, who had begun working as a janitor at the Mt. Wilson observatory, then rose to become a night assistant and then an assistant astronomer. Humason observed spectra, while Hubble concentrated on finding distances to various objects” (‘This Month in Physics History: Edwin Hubble Expands our View of the Universe,’ APS News, Vol. 17, No. 1, January 2008, aps.org/publications/apsnews/200801/physicshistory.cfm).

“By 1929 Hubble had obtained distances for eighteen isolated galaxies and for four members of the Virgo cluster. In that year he used this somewhat restricted body of data to make the most remarkable of all his discoveries and the one that made his name famous far beyond the ranks of professional astronomers. This was what is now known as Hubble’s law of proportionality of distance and radial velocity of galaxies. Since 1912, when V. M. Slipher at the Lowell Observatory had measured the radial velocity of a galaxy (M 31) for the time by observing the Doppler displacement of its spectral lines, velocities had been obtained of some forty-six galaxies, forty-one by Slipher himself. Attempts to correlate these velocities with other properties of the galaxies concerned, in particular their apparent diameters, had been made by Carl Wirtz, Lundmark, and others; but no definite, generally acceptable result had been obtained. In 1917 W. de Sitter had constructed, on the basis of Einstein’s cosmological equations, an ideal world-model (of vanishingly small average density) which predicted red shifts, indicative of recessional motion, in distant light sources; but no such systematic effect seemed to emerge from the empirical data. Hubble’s new approach to the problem, based on his determinations of distance, clarified an obscure situation. For distances out to about 6,000,000 light-years he obtained a good approximation to a straight line in the graphical plot of velocity against distance. Owing to the tendency of individual proper motions to mask the systematic effect in the case of the nearer galaxies, Hubble’s straight-line graph depended essentially on the data obtained from galaxies in the Virgo cluster. These indicated that over the observed range of distance, velocities increased at the rate of roughly 100 miles a second for every million light-years of distance.

“Einstein paid a special visit to Hubble at Mount Wilson in 1931 to thank him for his work, and said that introducing the cosmological constant in order to ensure a static universe had been ‘the greatest blunder of my life.’

“Hubble’s discovery stimulated much theoretical work in relativistic cosmology and aroused great interest in fundamental papers on expanding world models by A. Friedmann and G. Lemaître that had been written several years before but had attracted little attention. The interpretation of the straight line in Hubble’s graph of velocity against distance and of its slope were eagerly discussed. The constant ratio of velocity to distance is now usually denoted by the letter H and is called Hubble’s constant. It has the dimensions of an inverse time – its reciprocal, according to Hubble’s original determination, being approximately two (since revised to about ten) billion years. If the galaxies recede uniformly from each other, as was suggested by E. A. Milne in 1932, this could be interpreted as the age of the universe; but, whatever the true law of recessional motion may be, Hubble’s constant is generally regarded as a fundamental parameter in theoretical cosmology.

“Hubble’s work was characterized not only by his acuity as an observer but also by boldness of imagination and the ability to select the essential elements in an investigation. In his careful assessment of evidence he was no doubt influenced by his early legal training. He was universally respected by astronomers, and on his death N. U. Mayall expressed their feelings when he wrote: ‘It is tempting to think that Hubble may have been to the observable region of the universe what the Herschels were to the Milky Way and what Galileo was to the solar system’” (DSB).

“Few of Evans’s fellow scientists knew that he was an ardent collector of rare books, especially the great classics of medical, biological, and physical science … His remarkable career as a bibliophile (bibliomane would hardly be too strong a term) has been described since his death by Jacob I. Zeitlin, the well-known Los Angeles dealer in rare books and manuscripts. Evans began serious collecting about 1930. His earliest purchases were financed, it seems, by borrowings from his wife Anabel’s patrimony. By 1934 his first collection was sufficiently important to be exhibited at the Berkeley Faculty Club by the History of Science Club of the University of California. A small catalog he prepared for the exhibit shows that he had interested himself especially in books embodying notable individual discoveries, the formulation of scientific laws, and announcements of important hypotheses. According to Zeitlin the catalog was a pioneer effort to compile a selected list of the most significant books in the history of science. It is still a valuable guide for advanced collectors and dealers. Zeitlin considers it largely responsible for the great increase in American demand for books in the history of science during the past thirty-five years and the consequent increase of prices” (‘Herbert McLean Evans 1882-1971. A Biographical Memoir by George W. Corner,’ National Academy of Sciences, 1974). This catalogue was published by the University of California Press in 1934 as Exhibition of First Editions of Epochal Achievements in the History of Science.

“Evans did not keep this first collection very long. Domestic difficulties requiring reimbursement of Mrs Evans forced him to sell it. Almost at once he began another, of first editions in the sciences, accompanied by a collection of bibliographic reference books on the subject. This too was sold, to settle the estate of his wife, who died soon after their estrangement and divorce in 1932. Somehow Evans found the means to continue collecting, periodically getting himself in debt and selling off the books. Each time he received payment for the latest collection, says Zeitlin (through whose hands most of them passed), ‘He would plunge into another passionate campaign by letter, cable, telephone, and overnight drives or air flights to all parts of the world, to try to recapture the treasures he had parted with a few days before.’ The history and present whereabouts of the seven successive scientific collections show how widely this obsessive urge has ultimately served the scholars of our country, for almost all these books, estimated to number more than 20,000, are now in the possession of universities or other scholarly owners” (ibid.).

DSB VI: 530-531.



Offprint from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 15, No. 3. 8vo (258 x 175 mm), original printed wrappers, [1] 2-6 [7-8:blank]. First text leaf with some offsetting of the verso as usual with this print. A very fine copy.

Item #4729

Price: $60,000.00

See all items in Astronomy, Relativity Theory
See all items by