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The Day We Found the Universe

Mercury Summer 2010 Table of Contents

book cover

by Marcia Bartusiak

... a presentation made on Thursday, New Year's Day, ultimately overshadowed all other events at the meeting. Looking out their hotel windows that inaugural morning of 1925, convention-goers discovered a blanket of snow covering the city, enough to give holiday sleds a good tryout, reported the Washington Post. Despite the ongoing snowstorm, however, the astronomers kept to their schedule and walked the short distance to the newly constructed Corcoran Hall, on the nearby campus of George Washington University, for a joint session with the mathematicians and physicists of the AAAS. They first heard a talk on stellar evolution, followed by a lecture posing the question "Is the Universe Infinite?" which led to a lively discussion among the conferees. Then right before the noon break, a paper modestly titled "Cepheids in Spiral Nebulae" was presented to the assembled audience. Those not familiar with astronomy likely imagined it was a minor technical work, of interest only to a specialist. But the astronomers in the room immediately grasped its significance. For them, it was electrifying news. Despite its lackluster title, this paper was no less than the culmination of a centuries-long quest to understand the true nature and extent of the cosmos. January 1, 1925, was the day that astronomers were officially informed of the universe's discovery.

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