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How a janitor at the Mount Wilson Observatory measured the size of the universe

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At One-Minute Astronomer, we always have a soft spot for the “underdog astronomer”. Someone who overcomes circumstance to make great astronomical discoveries with skill and curiosity and raw enthusiasm.

We’ve already looked at the remarkable stories of E. E. Barnard and Henrietta Leavitt.

Today, a snapshot of Milton Humason, a former mule driver and janitor who rose to work with Edwin Hubble to establish the distance scale of the universe and become one of the best-known American astronomers of the 20th century.

IN PICTURES: Images from the Hubble telescope

Milton Humason was born in Dodge Center, Minnesota in 1891. When he was 14 years old, his parents sent him to a summer camp on Mount Wilson, near Los Angeles. The mountain’s forests and soaring views of southern California stole the heart of the prairie boy. He convinced his parents to let him take a year off school to stay on the mountain and find work.

He never returned to school.

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