Astrophysicist Vera Rubin, the pioneer of discovering evidence of dark matter is no more. There are many reasons to celebrate Vera Rubin for being someone to break the glass ceiling in space. Not without struggles though.

“I didn’t think that all astronomers were male, because I didn’t know.”

“She died on Sunday night of natural causes,” her son Allan Rubin told the Associated Press while in living facility in Princeton, New Jersey. The professor of geosciences at Princeton University said his mother, a Philadelphia native, had suffered from dementia for several years.

Astronomer Vera Rubin Dies
Pic Credit: CNET

While most of us are aware of Vera Rubin’s work on invisible dark matter in the universe, as she discovered the stars at the edges of galaxies moved faster than expected. However, we also might not know that she struggled a lot to gain credibility as a woman astronomer.

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Here’s a tribute to the legend and things to know about her on this day.

  • In the 1960s and 1970s, Rubin (born 1928), while working with astronomer Kent Ford, was studying the behavior of spiral galaxies, and a sudden discovery of galaxies’ rotations which didn’t fit with Newtonian gravitational theory took the science world into storm. At the Carnegie Institution in Washington, Rubin found evidence of a hypothetical type of invisible matter – generally called as the dark matter.

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Adam Frank, an astrophysicist who writes for NPR says this of her:

“It was Vera Rubin’s famous work in the 1970s that showed pretty much all spiral galaxies were spinning way too fast to be accounted for by the gravitational pull of the their ‘luminous’ matter (the stuff we see in a telescope). Rubin and others reasoned there had to be a giant sphere of invisible stuff surrounding the stars in these galaxies, tugging on them and speeding up their orbits around the galaxy’s center.”

Astronomer Vera Rubin Dies
Pic Credit: Celebrities
  • Intrigued by astronomy since she was 10, Rubin was under the guidence of her father, Philip Cooper, an electrical engineer who helped her shape the dream, according to a profile of the American Museum of Natural History. She built a telescope while being under him and he even used to take her to meetings of amateur astronomers.

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She once explained to an interviewer that becoming Astrophysicist just happened to her naturally and that she never had any intention on breaking into an all-male world. “I didn’t know a single astronomer, male or female,” she said in the interview, republished in her book Bright Galaxies, Dark Matters. “I didn’t think that all astronomers were male, because I didn’t know.”

Astronomer Vera Rubin Dies
Pic Credit: NPR
  • According to a profile of Rubin from Cosmic Horizons, she was the only astronomy major to graduate from the women’s college Vassar in 1948.

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  • When she got enthused to enrol as a graduate student, she found out that Princeton’s astronomy program bars women from doing so (later the policy was scratched off in 1975). So instead Rubin went to Cornell and Georgetown — where she did her Ph.D. from. At that time, she was just 23 with one young child and another expecting.

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  • Rubin with a doctorate in hand, later was employed at the Georgetown University as a faculty member for several years. However, after that she started working at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, a nonprofit scientific research centre.

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  • In her entire career, Vera examined more than 200 galaxies.
  • She was the first woman allowed to observe at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory, according to the Carnegie Institution.

  • The years of hardworks and her studies garnered her with numerous honours, including being the second female astronomer to be elected to the US National Academy of Sciences and received the National Medal of Science from President Bill Clinton in 1993.

  • As pioneering advocate of women in the sciences, Vera was amongst the influencers who encouraged young girls to pursue their dreams of investigating the universe. She wrote a children’s book titled My Grandmother Is an Astronomer, hoping to get other children experience the same adventure she felt watching the night skies.

Cheers to her space-spirit and her keenness to seek out what’s remain unknown and hats off to Vera for her constant effort of finding out the mystery in the observable universe.

Feature Image Credit: Twitter

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