Want to read about show biz cats in Hollywood leading all the way to Mt. Wilson Observatory to meet the great astronomer, Edwin Hubble? We will be sharing sample excerpts from several chapters of our book, “Tales of the Astro Cats: A Feline History of Great Astronomers” in the coming weeks. We will begin with an especially endearing story about Astronomer, Edwin Hubble’s relationship with one enterprising cat, Sphinx and that of his historical discovery of the Andromeda Galaxy. Take some time out and discover the creative charm and educational
aspects of the book by reading this excerpt from Chapter 24 entitled “Hubble”. Get a personalized copy of the book at: www.davishornerbooks.etsy.com or if not, go straight to www.amazon.com. Thanks!
“Major Edwin Hubble came to Hollywood that night
to see a movie called “Lost Battalion”, because he knew several of the actors from the war. As luck would have it Brodsky’s show was practically next door to the theater and he could hardly have missed recognizing the cat with the Purple Cone. He couldn’t have explained why, but he felt that this cat belonged with him, so he was emboldened to counter Charlie Chaplin’s offer with his own. He also wasn’t sure why, but he assumed the cat would understand everything he said.
Up on the mountain, he spent most of his days and nights taking pictures of the sky, a sky seen through the world’s most powerful telescope. Sphinx wasn’t aware of this at first, but when she first got a chance to look into the proper end of the instrument she was overwhelmed. She had at times second guessed her choice to come with this man, but one peek into the telescope reassured her. She beheld a universe that
had truly never been seen before.
Hubble’s assistant, Milton Humason, was the man who actually took most of the photographs. He knew the observatory from top to bottom, having started out as the janitor. He took over the responsibility of feeding the cat. His work required him to spend night after night taking pictures with extremely slow exposures, and checking the calibrations of the equipment. It could get rather tedious sometimes and he was happy to have a cat hanging around.
“Yes it does get a little slow, but I do love this job. I mean, how many school drop-outs do you know who
work as astronomers? It’s a pretty sweet deal, if you ask me.”
Milton would snack on sardines most nights during his shift, and he always set aside one of them for Sphinx. “Hubble’s a pretty sharp cookie too, I tell you. I think
this place is going to be on the map one of these days. It already is! There’s no other looking glass in the world like this one!”She loved the way he would scratch under her neck. “I like it up here. Nice and quiet and undisturbed. Of course if I want to kick it up a little Los Angeles is right at the bottom of the mountain.”
Sphinx began to understand that this man, though he lacked the polish that Hubble had, was a brilliant and instinctual man of science. She also began to put some of the pieces together of the work he and Hubble were doing. She decided she needed to share with
them some of her knowledge about her grandfather’s friends at Harvard.
Another word about the powers of the Hat: Whereas all of the wearers of Hypatia’s Hat have been scrupulous about instructing their heirs in the proper use of the hat, of the knowledge it has availed them, and the stories of their ancestors and their contributions to science, the Hat itself supplements for the wearer what limits of time make impossible to convey. In some marvelous way the Hat somehow “interfaces” with the mind of its wearer and enables her to recall all of the knowledge of her ancestors, if
and when she needs it. Thus Sphinx was able to recollect details of the work of her grandfather with the Harvard women that she could not have known first hand nor could have been told in such detail.
It was not long before Milton discovered that Sphinx could thump the Morse Code with her tail, and it followed that he soon figured out her other modes of communication. He passed this knowledge to Hubble as well until the three of them were happily engaging in three way discussions on a variety of topics.
And indeed, Hubble was keenly interested in the work Alabaster had done with Annie Jump Cannon and with Henrietta Swan Leavitt. He had been studying a fuzzy patch of light called the Andromeda Nebula, and felt he was on the verge of making some startling discoveries about it. Sphinx began relating everything she could on luminosities and Cepheid variables and Magellanic Clouds. Night after night Milton Humason
would photograph images from that sector that included the Andromeda. Hubble went into a white heat of study, sometimes working for 24 hours at a time. Even Sphinx would occasionally miss her 16 hour per day sleep requirement. A few times Hubble sent her flying miles into the sky, equipped with a
makeshift camera. As clear as the sky was from atop Mt. Wilson, he sometimes wanted an even clearer picture.
He once tried to contact Miss Leavitt by telephone, without success. Then he wrote her a letter. His former co-worker Dr. Shapley wrote from Harvard to
inform him that Henrietta had died. Sphinx had known this sweet and brilliant woman and was saddened by the news. She continued with her recollections of the work and communicated it all to Hubble.
Finally one night Hubble met with Milton and Sphinx
and several other members of the staff and explained: “I am now certain that my measurements are correct and that this formation which we have, to this point, referred to as a “Nebula” is actually another galaxy – the Andromeda Galaxy – which lies almost one million light years beyond our own Milky Way. Ladies
and Gentlemen, there are other galaxies beyond our own, in fact I believe there may be many, many more!” A sort of celebration followed, everyone congratulating each other for the excellence of their work. Milton took the time to peel away from the
festivities and have a chat with Sphinx. “Just to make sure you know that I know,” he began, “and that I know that Hubble knows that your contribution to this work has been crucial. Absolutely crucial! You are by far the greatest astronomy cat I have known. And you’re a superior rat catcher too, for that matter! Someday your story will be told!” He slipped her two sardines and started back towards the party. Then he turned around. “Hey, if an uneducated janitor can do this work, there’s no reason a cat can’t!” He winked.
Later that night Sphinx hopped to the ledge at the top of the observatory and contemplated the night sky. Hubble’s discoveries validated some things she had suspected for some time. But hearing the proof of these things gave her a sense of awe as she gazed into space and considered the utter hugeness of the universe. In a state of near hypnosis, the cat watched the stars in their slow, very slow dance for hours and hours. “