Hubble's Law

Andromeda galaxy

The expanding Universe

The American astronomer Edwin Hubble uncovered important evidence that the Universe is expanding.

He compared the measured relative velocities (red shifts) of faraway galaxies with his estimates of their distances from the Earth.

In 1929 he announced his discovery that the further away a galaxy is from another point in space, the faster it appears to recede as the Universe expands - Hubble's Law.

But there was more to be discovered about the expanding Universe - dark energy.

Image: Hubble measured the distances to galaxies such as Andromeda (NOAO/AURA/NSF/T.Rector & B.A.Wolpa)

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Andromeda galaxy


Hubble measures the Universe's expansion.

About Hubble's Law

Hubble's law is the name for the observation in physical cosmology that:

  1. Objects observed in deep space (extragalactic space, 10 megaparsecs (Mpc) or more) are found to have a Doppler shift interpretable as relative velocity away from Earth;
  2. This Doppler-shift-measured velocity, of various galaxies receding from the Earth, is approximately proportional to their distance from the Earth for galaxies up to a few hundred megaparsecs away.

Hubble's law is considered the first observational basis for the expansion of the universe and today serves as one of the pieces of evidence most often cited in support of the Big Bang model. The motion of astronomical objects due solely to this expansion is known as the Hubble flow.

Although widely attributed to Edwin Hubble, the law was first derived from the general relativity equations by Georges Lemaître in a 1927 article where he proposed the expansion of the universe and suggested an estimated value of the rate of expansion, now called the Hubble constant. Two years later Edwin Hubble confirmed the existence of that law and determined a more accurate value for the constant that now bears his name. Hubble inferred the recession velocity of the objects from their redshifts, many of which were earlier measured and related to velocity by Vesto Slipher in 1917.

The law is often expressed by the equation v = H0D, with H0 the constant of proportionality (Hubble constant) between the "proper distance" D to a galaxy (which can change over time, unlike the comoving distance) and its velocity v (i.e. the derivative of proper distance with respect to cosmological time coordinate; see Uses of the proper distance for some discussion of the subtleties of this definition of 'velocity'). The SI unit of H0 is s−1 but it is most frequently quoted in (km/s)/Mpc, thus giving the speed in km/s of a galaxy 1 megaparsec (3.09×1019 km) away. The reciprocal of H0 is the Hubble time.

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