Though the universe is filled with billions upon billions of stars, Hubble Space Telescope has been trained on a single variable star that in 1923 altered the course of modern astronomy.
The star goes by the inauspicious name of Hubble variable number one, or V1, and resides two million light-years away in the outer regions of the neighboring Andromeda Galaxy, or M31. V1 is a special class of pulsating star called a Cepheid variable that can be used to make reliable measurements of large cosmic distances.
The star helped Edwin Hubble show that Andromeda lies beyond our galaxy. Prior to the discovery of V1 many astronomers, including Harlow Shapley, thought spiral nebulae, such as Andromeda, were part of our Milky Way Galaxy. Others weren't so sure. In fact, Shapley andeber Curtis held a public debate in 1920 over the nature of these nebulae. But it took Edwin Hubble's discovery just a few years later to settle the debate.
Hubble sent a letter, along with a light curve of V1, to Shapley telling him of his discovery. After reading the note, Shapley reportedly told a colleague, "Here is the letter that destroyed my universe." The universe became a much bigger place after Edwin Hubble's discovery.
"V1 is the most important star in the history of cosmology," said astronomer Dave Soderblom of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., who proposed the V1 observations.
The observations were presented at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Boston, Mass.