US astronomer Vera Rubin, known for her discovery of the first evidence of dark matter, passes away at 88

A Philadelphia native, she used galaxies’ rotations to discover the first direct evidence of dark matter in the 1970s while working at the Carnegie Institution in Washington.

By Zee Media Bureau | Updated: Dec 27, 2016, 22:25 PM IST
US astronomer Vera Rubin, known for her discovery of the first evidence of dark matter, passes away at 88
Vera Rubin, captured in the 1970.

New Delhi: Vera Rubin, a US astronomer, known for divulging one of the biggest secrets of the evolution of the universe, breathed her last on Sunday, her son confirmed. She was 88 years-old.

Renowned for her pioneering work in the field of space, Rubin discovered the first direct evidence of dark matter in the universe.

Rubin had been suffering from dementia since a long time and passed away at an assisted living facility in Princeton, New Jersey.

A Philadelphia native, she used galaxies’ rotations to discover the first direct evidence of dark matter in the 1970s while working at the Carnegie Institution in Washington.

Working with spectrograph designer Kent Ford, Rubin found that material at galaxies’ edges rotated at the same rate as material in the center. The discovery contradicted a law of physics that said the greater mass in the center, such as dust, stars and gas, meant it should move faster than the edge, where there was less mass.

The explanation was a halo of dark matter around the galaxies that spread mass throughout the galaxies. Dark matter has not been directly observed but has been inferred through work by Rubin and other astronomers and physicists.

Scientists have discovered that a small part of dark matter is made of neutrinos - tiny, fast-moving particles that do not really interact with regular matter.

Many of Rubins' colleagues felt that she was deserving of the coveted Nobel Prize for her discovery, since it “had revolutionized astronomy and the concept of the universe.”

Emily Levesque, an astronomer at the University of Washington, told Astronomy Magazine in June that the will of Alfred Nobel, the founder of the prizes, “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.”

Rubin graduated from Vassar College in 1948 with a degree in astronomy. She earned a master’s degree from Cornell University and a doctorate from Georgetown University in Washington.

She was the second female astronomer to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences and received the National Medal of Science from President Bill Clinton in 1993.

Rubin was on the Georgetown faculty before working at the Carnegie Institution.

(With Reuters inputs)