Astronomy Pioneer Vera Rubin Dies at Age 88

Vera Rubin - an astronomer who made grand insights about galaxies and dark matter and who fought to open Palomar Observatory in northeastern San Diego County to female scientists - died on Sunday.

According to her son Allan Rubin, the astronomer had problems of dementia.

And - appropriately for a woman whose most famous discovery is an enduring mystery - she expressed a deep appreciation for all that remains unknown about the universe.

Working in the mid-20th century with spectrograph designer Kent Ford, Rubin found that material at galaxies' edges rotated at the same rate as material in the center.

Carnegie Institution president Matthew Scott called Rubin "a national treasure as an accomplished astronomer and a wonderful role model for young scientists" in a press release confirming the scientist's death.

Rubin observed more than 200 galaxies in the course of her career. Every year, many of us in physics hoped this might finally be the year she got her Nobel Prize. The only other woman to win a Nobel in physics was Marie Curie in 1903.

Rubin had done some important early work on the newly discovered field of pulsars, but when it became the sexy subject for ambitious (male) astronomers determined to make their mark, Rubin was effectively squeezed out.

She was passionate about astronomy from the age of 10.

She was turned down by Princeton's astronomy program because it did not admit women, a policy in position until 1975.

"For those of us living in the universe, it's a very interesting experience, one I'm glad I have", Rubin told Discover Magazine. "It was nearly overwhelming". As a woman she had to battle just to gain access to a telescope. She was also a trailblazing woman in her field - in 1948, she graduated as.

Astonomer Vera Rubin at her "measuring engine" used to examine photographic plates, 1974.

The stars at the edge of the spiral, she noticed, were moving as fast as those at the centre.

The discovery defied the accepted norms of astronomy, which held that the far-flung stars should move more slowly.

"I didn't know a single astronomer, male or female", she said in the interview, republished in her book Bright Galaxies, Dark Matters. But I don't know.

After observing this phenomenon in other galaxies, Rubin concluded that the gravity from an invisible mass - or dark matter - must alter the motions of these stars.

Vera Florence Cooper was born July 23, 1928, in Philadelphia. Her father was an electrical engineer.

She taught at Montgomery College and later at Georgetown before joining the Carnegie Institution, a Washington-based research center, in 1965.

Rubin's professional ascent was its own feat.

Dark matter to the cosmos is like air to human beings.

Rubin, who was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and awarded the National Medal of Science, continually pushed for women to be admitted to scientific institutions and organizations. All four of their children received doctorates in science or mathematics. But if she was disappointed at not receiving the Nobel Prize, she never said so in public. She did this as a woman in science and provided a beacon for all people who are not the stereotype of a scientist.

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