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Vera C. Rubin: Pioneering American astronomer (1928–2016)

  1. Neta A. Bahcalla,1
  1. aDepartment of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544

Vera Cooper Rubin, an icon of astronomy whose work revolutionized our understanding of the universe by confirming the existence of dark matter, passed away on December 25, 2016 at the age of 88. Vera had a lifelong love of the cosmos. “How could you possibly live on this Earth and not want to study the universe?” she wondered. Vera was a devoted champion of women in science and a beloved role model to generations of astronomers. The astronomical community has lost a pioneering scientist; her colleagues have lost an inspiring leader and a friend.

Vera C. Rubin. Image courtesy of Mark Godfrey (photographer).

Vera’s pivotal work in the 1970s established that the orbital speeds of stars in the outer parts of galaxies remain constant to large distances (known as “flat rotation curves”), rather than decline as expected from Newton’s law, and as observed in the outer parts of our Solar system. This excess speed requires excess mass beyond what we see in stars and gas. Vera’s observations provided crucial and convincing evidence for the existence of this excess “dark matter,” a suggestion first made by astronomer Fritz Zwicky in 1933 based, similarly, on large velocities …

?1Email: neta{at}astro.princeton.edu.

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