Chasing Hubble's Shadows is an account of the continuing efforts of astronomers to probe the outermost limits of the observable universe. The book derives its title from something the great American astronomer Edwin Hubble once wrote: "Eventually, we reach the dim boundary—the utmost limits of our telescopes. There, we measure shadows, and we search among ghostly errors of measurement for landmarks that are scarcely more substantial."
The quest for Hubble's "shadows"—those unimaginably distant, wispy traces of stars and galaxies that formed within the first few hundred million years after the Big Bang—takes us back, in effect, to the beginning of time as we are able to perceive it, when the first discrete stellar objects appeared out of what has lately come to be known as the "cosmic dark age." The information that is being gleaned from these dim sources—chiefly with the aid of Hubble's namesake, the Hubble Space Telescope—promises to yield clues to many cosmic puzzles, including the nature of the mysterious "dark energy" that is now believed to pervade all of space.
There are at least 127 billion potentially observable galaxies in the universe, according to science journalist Kanipe (A Skywatcher's Year). The Hubble Space Telescope allows scientists to penetrate the distant shadows of the readily observable and to uncover traces of the earliest galaxies' birth. Kanipe follows in the footsteps of the great astronomer Edwin Hubble and his successors in this deeply enjoyable book, which is part memoir and part scientific detective story. Kanipe chronicles the development of deep space astronomy, traveling, for example, to the 10-meter telescopes atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and observing a galaxy in the making with astronomer Richard Ellis, who has already discovered at least 12 previously unobserved galaxies. By 2011, NASA will be able to probe the universe's dark ages when it launches the James Webb Space Telescope, which will offer the chance to gaze 180 million years back, to the births of many galaxies and stars. Kanipe's breathless writing conveys his own excitement over the revelations that new advances in astronomy can tell us about our planet and our place in the universe. 8 pages of color illus. not seen by PW.