Published On: Tue, Dec 27th, 2016

Jewish Astrophysicist Vera Rubin, Who Discovered Existence of Dark Matter, Dies at 88

Her colleague say: Vera Rubin's work deserved a Novel Prize since the discovery of dark matter had revolutionized astronomy and the concept of the universe.

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Vera Rubin works at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff,  Ariz.,  in 1965. Carnegie Institution

Vera Rubin, renowned Jewish astrophysicist who discovered evidence of dark matter, the invisible material that makes up more than 90% of the mass of the universe, died Sunday night in Princeton N.J, at the age of 88.

The National Medal of Science awardee did much of her significant work at the Carnegie Institution. Carnegie president Matthew Scott called her a “national treasure”, and said: “We are very saddened by this loss.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, Rubin and her colleague Kent Ford were studying the Andromeda galaxy and the behavior of spiral galaxies, when to their surprise, they discovered something entirely unexpected. The stars far from the center traveled as fast as those near the center,  which didn’t fit with Newtonian gravitational theory,  whereby an object farther from its central mass orbits slower than those closer in.

Carnegie Institution explain: “After observing dozens more galaxies, Rubin and colleagues found that something other than the visible mass was responsible for the stars’ motions. Each spiral galaxy is embedded in a “halo” of dark matter—material that does not emit light and extends beyond the optical galaxy. They found it contains 5 to 10 times as much mass as the luminous galaxy.”

As a result of Rubin’s groundbreaking work, it has become apparent that more than 90% of the universe is composed of this invisible material. The first inkling that dark matter existed came in 1933 when Swiss astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky of Caltech proposed it. But it was not until Rubin’s work that dark matter was confirmed.”

 

Vera Rubin’s colleague Neta Bahcall of Princeton University said: “Vera was an amazing scientist and an amazing human being. 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.”

She was an ardent feminist, advocating for women observers at the Palomar Observatory, women at the Cosmos Club, Princeton, and she even advised the Pope to have more women on his committee.

Rubin was born July 23, 1928 in Philadelphia to Jewish immigrants. Her father, Philip Cooper, was an electrical engineer from Lithuania. Her mother, Rose Applebaum, worked for Bell Telephone,  calculating mileage for telephone lines. Her older sister, Ruth Cooper Burg, was an administrative judge in the United States Department of Defense.

When she was ten years old the family moved to Washington, D.C. where she started to develop an interest in astronomy. She obtained her M.A. from Cornell University and her Ph.D. from Georgetown University, where she then taught for 10 years.

  • Rubin was the first woman allowed to observe at the Palomar Observatory.
  • In 1996 she became the first woman to receive the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal since Caroline Hershel, who was awarded the prize in 1828.
  • In 1993 Vera Rubin received the National Medal of Science—the nation’s highest scientific award.

Rubin’s husband Robert J. Rubin, a mathematician and physicist, died in 2008. The couple’s four children all acquired Ph.Ds. in the sciences or mathematics: David Rubin is a geologist; Judy Young, who died in 2014, was an astronomer; Karl Rubin is a mathematician; and Allan Rubin is a geologist.

An astronomer at the University of Washington, Emily Levesque, told Astronomy Magazine in June that Rubin deserved the Nobel Prize since the discovery of dark matter had revolutionized astronomy and the concept of the universe.

“The will of Alfred Nobel, ” the founder of the prizes, she said, “describes the physics prize as recognizing ‘the most important discovery’ within the field of physics. If dark matter doesn’t fit that description, I don’t know what does.”

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