Vera Rubin: Famous dark matter scientist dies at 88
Rubin was the first woman to win the Royal Astronomical Society's Gold Medal in more than a century.
It’s a time of grief for the world of astrophysics. Vera Rubin, a woman who was influential to the confirmation of dark matter, has died of dementia at the age of 88.
Though the concept of dark matter had first been proposed by Fritz Zwicky in 1933, it was Rubin, in collaboration with her colleague Kent Ford, who first provided firm evidence in the 1960s and 1970s.
The team noticed that the stars at the outside of spiral galaxies spin just as quickly as those within – according to the understanding of gravity at the time, these gigantic star formations should tear themselves apart.
The only logical explanation was an invincible mass, about ten times larger than what we can see, that was holding the whole thing together. While humans still don’t know what dark matter is, Rubin and Ford’s work has held up to this day. Current scientific modelling says over 90 percent of the universe is made up of dark matter, which helps to explain stuff like cosmic expansion.
Rubin was also a poster child and advocate for women in science. She was the first woman to conduct observations at Caltech‘s Palomar Observatory.
Rubin was the first woman to win the Royal Astronomical Society‘s Gold Medal in more than a century. She also pushed for girls to be allowed to study science, and for institutions to either lift bans on women or include them more often in decision-making.
Rubin left behind a family rooted in science. Her four children landed careers in research and her late daughter Judith Young helped discover the proportional distribution of light and gas in galaxies.