More mysterious and more complex than we had imagined.
December 26, 2016 1:02 PM   Subscribe

Astronomer Vera Rubin (1928-2016), discovered the presence of dark matter in galaxies by observing their rotation. Her groundbreaking observations demonstrated that the rotation of galaxies is faster, especially in their outskirts, than what is expected from the gravitational pull of all of their normal, luminous mass (stars, gas, etc). This pioneering observation revealed that a large part of the mass of galaxies is in the form of dark matter.

"... we have peered into a new world and have seen that it is more mysterious and more complex than we had imagined." - from Bright Galaxies, Dark Matters by Vera Rubin

It is widely considered a major oversight that Rubin has not been awarded a Nobel Prize for her pioneering work. Only two women have ever been awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. Since Nobel Prizes are not awarded posthumously, this oversight is now permanent.

Beyond her fundamental contributions to astrophysics, Rubin was widely respected and loved in the field. She was a dedicated mentor, an inspiration to generations of scientists and an advocate for equity and inclusion in astronomy and physics. Some tweets with tributes and memories of Rubin from astronomers.

"I hope you will love your work as I love doing astronomy. I hope that you will fight injustice and discrimination in all its guises. I hope you will value diversity among your friends, among your colleagues, and, unlike some of your regents, among the student body population. I hope that when you are in charge, you will do better than my generation has. In 1993, U.S. universities awarded Ph.D. degrees in physics and Astronomy to a total of nine black Americans. You do better." - Vera Rubin, 1996 Berkeley Commencement Address

Some links:
* Rubin's paper showing the rotation curves of galaxies: Rubin et al. 1980
* A nice animation to visualize how the rotation of a galaxy changes with and without dark matter.
* "An Interesting Voyage" - autobiographical essay by Rubin from the Annual Review of Astronomy & Astrophysics
* American Institute of Physics oral history interview with Rubin in 1989
* Excerpts of interviews with Rubin from Origins: The Lives and Worlds of Modern Cosmologists by Lightman and Brawer
posted by kms (31 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
Needs space tag. Also: YES.
posted by Mike Mongo at 1:11 PM on December 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


One more link: press release from Carnegie: Vera Rubin Who Confirmed “Dark Matter” Dies
posted by kms at 1:16 PM on December 26, 2016


Should have had a Nobel. As well as many other women in the last 50 years.
posted by sety at 1:19 PM on December 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


A close friend of mine considered her a mentor. Tough to hear she died on Christmas, 2016. Here is the high resolution version of the image in the Carnegie press release: Vera Rubin working with a telescope at Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona in 1965 (Carnegie Institution for Science PST00226).
posted by RichardP at 1:20 PM on December 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


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posted by haiku warrior at 1:41 PM on December 26, 2016


I saw her speak once, several decades ago. She deserved a Nobel Prize.

I just love the full-res photo that RichardP linked.

⭐️
posted by Songdog at 1:52 PM on December 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


In 1948, no Nobel Prize for Peace was given. This is widely believed to be because the Nobel cannot be awarded posthumously, and Gandhi died before the committee met.

No Nobel Prize for Physics should be awarded in 2017.
posted by Etrigan at 2:09 PM on December 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


Cosmos episode 13 (start about 13 minutes in) touches on Zwicky, Rubin, and dark matter.
posted by pracowity at 2:16 PM on December 26, 2016


kms: thank you for the considered, detailed and multi-link post.
posted by Wordshore at 2:45 PM on December 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


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posted by Cash4Lead at 3:00 PM on December 26, 2016


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posted by Token Meme at 3:18 PM on December 26, 2016


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posted by dirigibleman at 3:37 PM on December 26, 2016


I was considering making a post on her passing, but I figured I couldn't do her justice. Thank you, kms.

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posted by miguelcervantes at 3:55 PM on December 26, 2016



posted by otherchaz at 4:06 PM on December 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


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posted by JoeXIII007 at 4:13 PM on December 26, 2016


"Oversight" implies inadvertence. I know the award in physics is particularly tricky because it takes time to see whether a particular observation or theory is borne out by evidence and turns out to be a significant piece of the intellectual puzzle, but still.
posted by praemunire at 4:26 PM on December 26, 2016


⭐️

I have been standing all my life in the
direct path of a battery of signals
the most accurately transmitted most
untranslatable language in the universe
I am a galactic cloud so deep so invo-
luted that a light wave could take 15
years to travel through me And has
taken I am an instrument in the shape
of a woman trying to translate pulsations
into images for the relief of the body
and the reconstruction of the mind

(Via Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein)
posted by ChuraChura at 5:20 PM on December 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


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posted by bryon at 6:22 PM on December 26, 2016


⭐️
posted by une_heure_pleine at 7:26 PM on December 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Etrigan: "In 1948, no Nobel Prize for Peace was given. This is widely believed to be because the Nobel cannot be awarded posthumously, and Gandhi died before the committee met.

No Nobel Prize for Physics should be awarded in 2017.
"

Or the Nobel committee could just change there rules again (they changed previously in '74) to allow people who died in the past year to be eligible.
posted by Mitheral at 7:44 PM on December 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry for yet another loss in this annis horribus, the discovery of the rotation anomaly is important, but there are other possible explainations as to the cause, some without the hocus-pocus of "dark matter", such as quantized inertia.
posted by MikeWarot at 8:30 PM on December 26, 2016


The paper described in this article sounds extremely promising: New theory of gravity might explain dark matter

Despite the headline, the theory doesn't "explain dark matter"; it explains observations like Rubin's without positing the existence of dark matter. If it holds up, it will reinforce rather than diminish the importance of her work.
posted by shponglespore at 1:57 AM on December 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


🌟
posted by sukeban at 4:38 AM on December 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Do these theories that avoid dark matter explain things like why the lensing mass is separated from the baryonic mass in the Bullet Cluster? Or why, if it's some kind of universal, constant effect inherent in the nature of gravity, you get galaxies like VIRGOHI21 which appear to be almost all dark matter and ones like NGC 3379 which appear to have almost no dark matter? What about angular fluctuations in the Cosmic Microwave Background, and baryon acoustic oscillations?

If you want to get rid of dark matter, at this point you have to explain a LOT more than galactic rotation.
posted by kyrademon at 4:46 AM on December 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


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posted by iffthen at 5:59 AM on December 27, 2016


Look, the Nobel has already been awarded for the accelerating universe supernovae observations, widely attributed to dark energy. There is no reason (except they left it tragically too late) it can't be awarded to the older, stronger, flat rotation curve observations that contributes to the evidence for dark matter (contributes now, but early on was truly a major factor).
posted by edd at 8:54 AM on December 27, 2016


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Previously
posted by Michele in California at 1:14 PM on December 27, 2016


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A true scientist.
posted by brambleboy at 3:01 PM on December 27, 2016


This is very sad news. I guess the people we look up to all have to start dying at some point, but ugh.

(Also, even without the rules issue, the Nobel prize in Physics for 2017 is overwhelmingly likely to go to the LIGO discovery, which came after the nomination deadline for 2016's award.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:25 PM on December 28, 2016


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posted by droplet at 6:08 PM on December 28, 2016


Thanks in large part to Dr. Vera Rubin, the woman who couldn’t get into an astronomy PhD program because she was a woman, we now believe that dark matter likely makes up about 80% of the matter in the universe, and finding out what it is continues to be one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in all of physics. If she had been arrogant about her discovery in a field known for arrogance, my younger self would have understood. But Rubin was hungry for answers, not adulation, and she knew her search meant asking for help from young Black women PhD students who had the audacity to introduce themselves.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:30 AM on January 5 [2 favorites]


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