Dark matter pioneer Vera Rubin gets a new observatory named after her

The researcher found evidence of dark matter and broke barriers for women in science

Vera Rubin

Astronomer Vera Rubin uncovered evidence of dark matter in the 1970s. A new effort to study dark matter and other cosmic quandaries has been named in her honor.

NSF’s Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory/KPNO/AURA

A trailblazer into the dark heart of the universe is getting her due.

A major new effort to study the cosmos is now named after astronomer Vera Rubin, who discovered telltale evidence that the universe is infused with dark matter.

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, LSST, a U.S.-funded project under construction in Chile, is now known as the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, scientists announced January 6 at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Honolulu. A bill signed into law on December 20 makes the name official. Surveying the sky beginning in 2022, the Rubin Observatory will study dark matter and another shadowy cosmic character, dark energy (SN: 4/13/11).

The honor is “very appropriate,” says astrophysicist Neta Bahcall of Princeton University. “She was an incredible scientist, but she was also an incredible person.” Rubin, who died in 2016, was a staunch advocate for women in science. She battled sexism during her career, such as an observatory that was once open only to men.

As a researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., her observations of stars’ motions within galaxies, made with fellow Carnegie astronomer Kent Ford in the 1970s, revealed the gravitational pull of an invisible type of matter, now known as dark matter (SN: 4/8/11). Before her death, a chorus of scientists and science fans had argued that she deserved a Nobel Prize for her work, but she never received one.

Physics writer Emily Conover has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago. She is a two-time winner of the D.C. Science Writers’ Association Newsbrief award.

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