Emily Cheeseman

As the double glass doors silently slid apart, and as the older man behind the counter glanced up and smiled, I told myself I should be reviewing my ideas.My mind was too impressed by the personal significance of the event before me.It was my moment of arrival.I may have driven here in my slightly dilapidated car, but no one knew that.I was on the inside.They had invited me.Through a lot of work and some good luck, I was now going to address the board of trustees of the University of Puget Sound.Norton Clapp wanted to hear my ideas.It was Norton Clapp, chairman of the board, one of the ten richest men in the world, who had called me here.Norton Clapp had long been a presence in my life.I first heard his name from my childhood classmate Mike O’Rooney.One of the benefits of parochial schools was the wearing of uniforms, which masked all class distinctions.It was not until the sixth grade, when Mike invited me for a sleepover at his house, that I learned he lived in a mansion.I had never been in any home as large as Mike’s.It felt like a castle, with layer after layer of floors and wings that ran off and turned corners.Mike could only laugh at my stuttering amazement.He explained that his house was nothing compared to the Norton Clapp mansion.As Mike put it, Compared to his, our house is a shack.The next morning he took me out on the lake in his speedboat, and when he pointed out the Clapp mansion, I could see what he meant.It looked like it had been plucked up from some estate owned by European royalty and carefully set down here amidst the trees of the evergreen forest.He said his dad told him Norton Clapp was the richest man in the world.She informed me that the trustees were behind schedule.Sitting on a single chair with its gold plastic cushion, I reviewed my talk.My plan was to give the trustees a sense of the expanding universe by telling them a story of how Hubble might have come to his insight.Making up a story about Hubble but keeping all the science accurate.If I could give the trustees a feel for it, they would recognize Hubble’s significance and would want his work featured in a university course.I had no doubt whatsoever that the Hubble event of the early twentieth century would come to be regarded as one of the milestones in the evolution of human consciousness.One of the dozen or so pivotal events of human history, on a par with Siddhartha Gautama reaching enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree or Shakespeare composing his plays in Southern England, Hubble’s experience was comparable in terms of the largeness of impact.Each of these three events changed human understanding of the universe forever.Wilson to touch the Hooker Telescope just as pilgrims today make their way to Rome and Mecca.Wilson, peering out at the vast ocean of stars.Wilson was an actor in this dramatic event.It was the reason Hubble and his colleague Milton Humason worked in the cold of the San Gabriel Mountains year after year.Or have they traveled merely several thousand years? In 1928, the answer was unknown as Hubble sat there with his telescope looking hour after hour at the points of light.Henrietta Leavitt offered Hubble a deeper way of seeing the light.She had discovered something profound concerning the nature of Cepheid stars, stars that grow brighter for a number of days and then grow dimmer for the same number of days.Leavitt had learned how to calculate the amount of energy the Cepheid star was radiating second by second.By drawing on her method, Hubble was no longer restricted to observing stars as just points of light.He could now observe their fundamental dynamism in terms of their energy production.An additional element in Hubble’s mind was the mathematics of Johannes Kepler.Kepler was the first to publish what came to be called the inverse square law for light’s luminosity.Hubble’s breakthrough began with the Cepheid stars in the direction of the Andromeda nebula.After months of patiently attending to the phenomena of the light from Andromeda, after months of carefully bringing the mathematical physics of Johannes Kepler, Henrietta Leavitt, and others into the process of his apprehension, there came a moment when Hubble pierced the confusion.In my imagination, I saw Hubble’s shocked face when he suddenly realized the photons of light he was viewing had been traveling on the order of a million years to reach him.He suddenly knew the star he was watching was far beyond the Milky Way galaxy.Some scientists had speculated that the Milky Way was the whole universe.Others had speculated that there were additional galaxies beyond the Milky Way.But now, here was Hubble, alone in the night, looking at a star in the Andromeda galaxy and experiencing himself as receiving starlight that had traveled a million years or more to reach him.In that moment, he became the first human to know, in a direct and empirical manner, that we live in a vast ocean of galaxies.But Hubble’s full awakening involved the movement of these galaxies.As before, Hubble’s mind was shaped by many thousands of previous achievements, most crucially the insight of Niels Bohr, who discovered that when an element such as hydrogen moves from one quantum state to a lower quantum state, it emits a photon of light.Each chemical element emits photons that carry its own signature.It’s as if hydrogen atoms emit photons in C major and G sharp minor keys, whereas carbon atoms emit photons in the B minor and D major keys.Once Niels Bohr and his colleagues learned this, they could analyze the vibrations in each sparkling star and know which elements were present there.This was true whether the sparkling light was from the Sun or from a star a million trillion miles away.

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