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Vera Rubin, "mother" of dark matter, passes away

Vera Rubin, "mother" of dark m...
Astronomer Vera Rubin in 1974
Astronomer Vera Rubin in 1974
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Astronomer Vera Rubin in 1974
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Astronomer Vera Rubin in 1974

Vera Rubin, the astronomer whose work first confirmed the existence of dark matter, has passed away at the age of 88. Along with that groundbreaking discovery, Rubin leaves a legacy of scientific achievements and awards, and was a strong advocate for women in science.

Dark matter, or at least the idea that some unseen force is affecting the mass of galaxies, had been theorized as early as the 1920s, but it wasn't until Rubin's work in the 1960s and 70s that its existence was confirmed. She and colleague Kent Ford were studying the distribution of mass in the Milky Way's nearest neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy, by observing how fast stars and gases orbit the galactic center at different distances.

But the orbits didn't line up with Newtonian gravitational theory, and after studying additional galaxies, the team determined that visible mass alone can't account for the stellar movements. A previously-unknown material was proposed, dubbed "dark matter" due to the fact that it doesn't emit, absorb or reflect light. This strange substance is believed to compose over 90 percent of the universe, and the search for the subatomic particle responsible continues to this day.

Apart from pioneering this field of research, Rubin leaves a legacy of helping to empower women to enter the male-dominated arenas of science. She was the first woman allowed to use the instruments at the Palomar Observatory, and she worked to increase the amount of women in bodies like the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and academia in general.

"Vera was an amazing scientist and an amazing human being," says Neta Bahcall, a colleague of Rubin's from Princeton University. "A pioneering astronomer, the 'mother' of flat rotation curves and dark matter, a champion of women in science, a mentor and role model to generations of astronomers."

Vera Rubin was born July 23, 1928 and passed away December 25, 2016 in Princeton, New Jersey.

Source: Carnegie Science

3 comments
Bob
Nice to be honored for something that likely doesn't exist. It has long been known that there was unseen matter affecting the galaxies but dark matter was a convenient idea that propped up several other popular theories. Most of that unseen matter is likely burnt out stars and brown dwarfs that have only recently been found closer to earth. I have long proposed that the universe is closer to 50-100 billion years old. This allows time for expansion and several generations of stars with the resulting development of heavier elements. The earlier generations of stars would by now be long dead and cold since only about 60 percent of each generation ever went super nova and went on to form the next generation. After six or seven generations less than 10 percent would still exist as visible stars. The rest would be dark. Of course my theory isn't popular but it explains a lot without going for some unproveable exotic explanations meant to prop other theories.
BartyLobethal
Thanks for your contribution to astronomy Bob. All you need to do to make your "theory" popular is provide robust, repeatable observations/evidence that overturns existing theories.
Kristianna Thomas
As the world mourns the passing of Stephen Hawking, women in the scientific community still gets second billings. We tell girls that they are just as good as the boys in science and engineering, but we still have to tell them that they still have to face the glass ceiling. Why didn't Vera Rubin, whether you believe in her theories is not the issue, the fact that she is an acclaimed scientist is the issue. It should not have been, "oh but the way, did you hear Vera Rubin has passed?" It is still like the men's NCAA march madness, as compared to the women's NCAA march madness. The men gets top billing and game to game coverage, and the ladies gets the back page article on the tournament.