Astronomer Harlow Shapley firmly believed that there was only one galaxy in the universe but when he was presented with an evidence that disproved his view, he said “it destroyed his universe.” Then he completely changed his view and devoted his subsequent career in mapping 76,000 galaxies.

Harlow Shapley

Harlow Shapley (November 2, 1885 – October 20, 1972) was an American scientist, head of the Harvard College Observatory (1921–1952), and political activist during the latter New Deal and Fair Deal.

Shapley used Cepheid variable stars to estimate the size of the Milky Way Galaxy and the Sun’s position within it by using parallax. In 1953 he proposed his “liquid water belt” theory, now known as the concept of a habitable zone.

Background

Shapley (first standing from the right) at a Science Service board meeting in 1941

Members of the Independent Voters Committee of the Arts and Sciences for Roosevelt visit FDR at the White House (October 1944). From left: Van Wyck Brooks, Hannah Dorner, Jo Davidson, Jan Kiepura, Joseph Cotten,… Continue Reading (8 minute read)

14 thoughts on “Astronomer Harlow Shapley firmly believed that there was only one galaxy in the universe but when he was presented with an evidence that disproved his view, he said “it destroyed his universe.” Then he completely changed his view and devoted his subsequent career in mapping 76,000 galaxies.”

  1. CrimsonPig

    > He is also known to have incorrectly opposed Edwin Hubble’s observations that there are additional galaxies in the universe other than the Milky Way. Shapley fiercely critiqued Hubble and regarded his work as junk science. However, after he received a letter from Hubble showing Hubble’s observed light curve of V1, he withdrew his criticism. He reportedly told a colleague, “Here is the letter that destroyed my universe.” He also encouraged Hubble to write a paper for a joint meeting of the American Astronomical Society and American Association for the Advancement of Science. Hubble’s findings went on to reshape fundamentally the scientific view of the universe.

    Imagine calling something “junk science” and then finding out that *you’re* the wrong one. And to not only accept it, but encourage the spread of that knowledge so that everyone can learn from it. Clearly a guy who didn’t let his ego get in the way of science.

  2. zwukdiaspora

    You can’t knock a man who can change his mind when presented with new information

  3. Indrid-Chilly

    Hey, he’s from Missouri too.

    \*keeps reading

    “Rejecting Archaeology, which Shapley later claimed he could not pronounce, he chose the next subject, Astronomy.”

    Yes, these are indeed my people.

  4. Hopesick_2231

    His Wikipedia page is… interesting. Says he originally wanted to be a journalist. But when he learned the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri wasn’t open yet, he decided to study the first subject he saw in the course directory, which was Archeology, which he couldn’t pronounce, so he picked the next one, Astronomy. Glad it worked out for him.

  5. Stardancer86

    And that kids, is how you science.

  6. OwlOtherwise

    This is science.

    If more people were interested in finding the right answer than being right, this would not be so poignant on the front page.

  7. hoosierdaddy192

    You mean you can actually admit when you are wrong and work with the new information? How ludicrous.

  8. torment86

    Because that is exactly how science works.

  9. Xenfo-

    >when he was presented with an evidence that disproved his view, he said “it destroyed his universe.” Then he completely changed his view and devoted his subsequent career in mapping 76,000 galaxies.

    Notice how he accepted it and moved forward, instead of sticking with his dogmatic worldview.

    Science isn’t trying to find evidence to fit your preconceived narrative, ideology, or worldview. It’s rigorously testing ideas to see what *doesn’t.* That’s the only way we can truly know anything. Unfortunately, it seems like this fact is lost on many.

  10. OneSalientOversight

    What some people think scientists do when they are presented with contrary evidence:

    “What? Splutter Splutter! That’s impossible! How dare you!”

    What scientists actually do:

    “Really? Wow let’s have a look!”

  11. thorpeedo22

    This is called being an adult and accepting when you are wrong. Great on Harlow!

  12. Mutt1223

    Way to be, Harlow. Way to be.

  13. CaveGnome

    He should have shown some class instead and just yelled for them to stop counting.

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