The Origins of the Expanding Universe

Not having much time to write anything particularly original, I thought I’d use this blog to advertise a forthcoming centenary celebration which I hope to attend and speak at, if my recovery goes to plan.  The text below is taken from the conference website for a meeting due to take place at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona from September 13-15. I’m sure they won’t mind me borrowing it, as it helps promote the event.  Registration is open until 10th August…

On September 17, 1912, Vesto Slipher obtained the first radial velocity of a “spiral nebula” – the Andromeda Galaxy. Using the 24-inch telescope at Lowell Observatory, he followed up with more Doppler shifts, and wrote a series of papers establishing that large velocities, usually in recession, are a general property of the spiral nebulae. Those early redshifts were recognized as remarkable by Slipher, and were critical to the discovery of what came eventually to be called the expanding Universe. Surprisingly, Slipher’s role in the story remains almost unknown to much of the astronomical community.

The nature, and especially the distance, of spiral nebulae was fiercely argued – most famously in the 1920 Shapley-Curtis debate. Hubble’s 1923 discovery of Cepheids in Andromeda, along with Henrietta Leavitt’s period-luminosity relation for Cepheids, led to a distance scale for the nebulae, enabling Lemaitre (1927) to derive a linear relation between velocity and distance (including a “Hubble constant” and, by 1931, a Primeval Atom theory).

Meanwhile, a new concept of space and time was formulated by Einstein, providing a new language in which to understand the large-scale Universe. By 1932, all the major actors had arrived on stage, and Universal expansion – the most general property of the Universe yet found – acquired a solid basis in observation and in the (relativistic) concept of space. “Space expands”… or does it? How did Lemaitre and Hubble interpret this concept? How do we interpret it? It continues to evolve today, with cosmic inflation and dark energy presenting new challenges still not fully assimilated.

This conference is in honor of Vesto Melvin Slipher and is timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the first measured Doppler shift in a Galaxy (then known as a Spiral-Nebula) on September 17, 1912:Slipher 1913 Lowell Obs 2, 56

We are bringing together astronomers and historians of science to explore the beginnings and trajectories of the subject, at the place where it began. 

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12 Responses to “The Origins of the Expanding Universe”

  1. The cheap interpretation of galaxy redshift = The big mistake of science history.
    Why? The answer is the Machian Principle.

  2. I find the book “The Origin of the Universe – Case Closed” to be compelling. It has easy to follow math in the Appendix to back up its claims. It is hard to argue with math! It’s easy to follow with many pictures.

  3. Damn! Why hadn’t I heard of this? many thanks for bringing it up

  4. One correction Peter – in fact registration is open until the end of August, hurrah!

    • telescoper Says:

      Yes, they extended it because of problems with the site…

      • Many thanks for bringing it to my attention, I really enjoy interdisciplinary conferences like this. I’ll be giving an ‘open-bus tour’ talk on the contributions of the early pioneers like Parsons, Slipher, Hubble and Humason, should be fun

  5. [...] thanks to Peter Coles of In the Dark for drawing the conference to my attention. Like this:LikeBe the first to like [...]

  6. [...] travelling is meant to be good for me, so I decided to accept the invitation to attend and speak at the conference I posted about a while ago. One of the relics of the 2005 episode is an unused J-1 visa in my passport, and when we arrived in [...]

  7. [...] I’m here at a conference celebrating the scientific achievements of Vesto M. Slipher, I thought I’d take the [...]

  8. [...] here I am back in Blighty after the  conference celebrating  Vesto M. Slipher. The return trip went remarkably smoothly – no hassles at the [...]

  9. [...] those of you interested, here are the slides I used in my talk at the Origins of the Expanding Universe conference. I spoke about the events on and after 29th May 1919, when measurements were made during a total [...]

  10. [...] may recall that I gave a talk recently at a meeting called The Origins of the Expanding Universe in Flagstaff, Arizona. I put the slides up here. Well, the organizers have now put videos of the [...]

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