Remembering Vera Rubin

Vera Rubin looking through a telescope at Vassar College.


Brief Biography

Pioneering astronomer Vera Rubin passed away Dec. 25, 2016 at the age of 88. Perhaps best known for discovering the discrepancy between the observed rotation of galaxies and their predicted rotation by the Newtonian laws of gravity, evidence for the existence of dark matter, Rubin was a towering figure in modern astronomy, and her work was pivotal to the ongoing investigation of dark matter.

Born to Jewish parents originally from Lithuania and Bessarabia (Moldova today), Rubin was born July 23, 1928 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Rubin earned her doctorate in 1954 from Georgetown University before becoming a researcher at Carnegie Institution of Washington in 1965, both located in Washington, D.C.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Rubin and her colleague Ken Ford discovered the galaxy rotation problem, an inconsistency between the observed mass of galaxies and their rotations according to the existing understanding of gravity. The observed mass of these rotating galaxies was not enough to keep them from flying apart, given their speed of rotation, which thus suggested they contained some other, hidden "dark" matter within. Attempts to explain these observations have since led to modified Newtonian dynamics and modern theories of dark matter, the exact nature of which is still unexplained.

Read more.


From Physics Today -- Free access until 1/27/17

Seeing dark matter in the Andromeda galaxy
Vera Rubin

Letter to the Editor: Male world of physics? (PDF)
Vera Rubin

Letter to the Editor: Sexism in science (PDF)
Vera Rubin   

Vera Rubin in the pages of Physics Today
Andrew Grant

From Inside Science

Highlighted by our staff as a likely candidate for the Nobel Prize in physics in 2015 and 2016:

As one of the pioneering women in astronomy:

Recent articles on dark matter:


From the Niels Bohr Library & Archives

Interview of Vera Rubin by Alan Lightman, April 3, 1989

Interview of Vera Rubin by David DeVorkin, September 21, 1995

Interview of Vera Rubin by David DeVorkin, May 9, 1996

Teaching guide on oral histories of women astronomers, which includes excerpts from the Vera Rubin interviews listed above


From the Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

Vera Rubin <br/>CREDIT: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Rubin Collection


Vera Rubin standing by the Lowell Observatory 72-in telescope <br/>CREDIT: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Rubin Collection


More photos


Third-party obituaries

Obit in the Guardian (from AP) 

Lawrence Krauss, writing for Scientific American 

Phil Plait, writing for Slate 

LA Times 

National Public Radio 

Washington Post 

Audio interview on BBC