The Hubble Mystery
In Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” there is the curious tale of Edwin Hubble, the ‘discoverer’ of Galaxies and the fact that they are rapidly receding away from each other. In 1953, Hubble died of a heart attack (or a cerebral thrombosis –a blood clot in the brain, in some sources). His wife, Grace, never held a funeral for him (at least not publicly) nor did she say what had happened to the body. And his body has never been found. Hubble disappeared as fast as his red-shifted nebulae.
So where is Hubble? His wife must have had a reasonable motive for this mysterious move. Are there surviving relatives who could shed light on this mystery of the disappearing cosmologist? Was his body donated to science? Was he cremated? Was his disappearance done to enhance his enigmatic nature? Or did Hubble disdain the frivolities of funerals, wakes, and rituals? Whatever the reason, it has piqued the curiosity of many people.
Is there an air of arrogance lingering after his death; one of Hubble’s riddles, as he often made extravagant boasts in life? Imagine you are a famous scientist. You are feted through life, but know that even with your awards and world-changing discoveries you may be forgotten in death. What better way to keep your name alive far beyond death and the mere feats of your scientific endeavours? Will Hubble be the Percy Fawcett of the scientific world – mysteriously lost with tantalising new evidence on his whereabouts emerging every so often? Imagine Hubble’s remains being found a hundred or more years from now; what a news story that would be, even in 2110.
Is this only a myth? A search of online sites seems to perpetuate the story of his wife not revealing where and how the body was interred or disposed of. In a couple of websites, there are references to what Grace Hubble did do and why. After Hubble suffered a cerebral thrombosis at home, Grace cremated his body. She held no service or a memorial. Apparently, she then boxed up and buried his ashes, which have never been found. Another source suggests that Hubble wanted no service for himself and that he is either buried in an unmarked grave or was indeed cremated. Whichever is true, the location has remained safe for almost sixty years: some hiding place, Grace!
Did Hubble want no fuss over his death, not wishing for worshippers coming to view his grave as in a pilgrimage to a scientific saint? Did he want a private death; to die and remain in peace with dignity? It is a rare thing for a famous scientist to crave anonymity in death, but maybe Hubble felt he had done enough in life that his death was unimportant and not wanting it to overshadow his achievements? The mysterious disappearance after his death has certainly bolstered the mystery surrounding him? Hubble’s gravesite location is as uncertain as Hubble’s constant.
But for how much longer can Hubble’s body go undiscovered? If his remains (cremated or not) are found in an unmarked grave or cemetery, how would we know if they are Hubble’s? Did Grace Hubble leave any indication of where he was in a diary, or private notes, a whispered confession to a friend or family member? Is Hubble buried close to home, in a cemetery or crematorium, or by his beloved observatory where he made history? Would forensics be able to determine his identity if a body was found? If his ashes were found, could we be sure it was him? And then what: would Hubble be re-interred, whether in a private ceremony or in a public celebration, and allowed to rest in peace? I’m sure there would be a petition to have his ashes carried into space to join his beloved galaxies.
Is this all too much of a contrived mystery? Would a search of the Los Angeles county death certificate records solve the problem or do we want Hubble’s disappearance in death to be some romantic myth? Wouldn’t it be great if Hubble’s remains were secretly entombed in his eponymous telescope, the ultimate cryogenic coffin and eye on the universe? Wherever Hubble is and in whatever condition, we can only hope that he is not lost forever. Hubble’s law defines our universe, but it seems Hubble himself wanted to be a law unto himself in death, resting as enigmatically in the afterlife as he did in life.
1. Edwin Hubble: King of the Hill
2. Edwin Hubble: http://en.allexperts.com/e/e/ed/edwin_hubble.htm