Vera Rubin

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Vera Rubin (23 July 192825 December 2016) was an American astronomer who pioneered work on galaxy rotation rates. Her magnum opus was the uncovering of the discrepancy between the predicted angular motion of galaxies and the observed motion, by studying galactic rotation curves. This phenomena became known as the galaxy rotation problem.


  • Science is competitive, aggressive, demanding. It is also imaginative, inspiring, uplifting.
    • Bright Galaxies, Dark Matters (1997), p. 219
  • We have peered into a new world and have seen that it is more mysterious and more complex than we had imagined. Still more mysteries of the universe remain hidden. Their discovery awaits the adventurous scientists of the future. I like it this way.
    • Bright Galaxies, Dark Matters (1997), preface
  • There is one alternative to dark matter, and that is the assumption that Newton's laws don't hold over distances as great as galaxies. But we know that Newton's laws hold over a very large domain. And virtually one hundred percent of the physics and astronomy community believes that there is matter in the universe that does not radiate.
  • Science progresses best when observations force us to alter our preconceptions.
  • It is well known that I am available twenty-four hours a day to women astronomers.
  • How stars move tell us that most matter in the universe is dark. When we see stars in the sky, we're only seeing five or 10 percent of the matter that there is in the universe.
  • I'm not a theologian, and I must say honestly that Vatican astronomers' views [on astronomy] are entirely in accord with ours. I'm not aware of any Church positions that contradict modern science. In my own life, my science and my religion are separate. I'm Jewish, and so religion to me is a kind of moral code and a kind of history. I try to do my science in a moral way, and, I believe that, ideally, science should be looked upon as something that helps us understand our role in the universe.
  • I live and work with three basic assumptions, 1) There is no problem in science that can be solved by a man that cannot be solved by a woman. 2) Worldwide, half of all brains are in women. 3) We all need permission to do science, but, for reasons that are deeply ingrained in history, this permission is more often given to men than to women.

Quotes about Vera Rubin

  • Rubin, in collaboration with Kent Ford, became the key figure in extending rotation curves based on optical-wavelength studies to large galactic radii, where their prevalent flatness dovetailed neatly with results from radio-wavelength observations.
    Rubin’s life story is one of perseverance in the face of occupational and societal obstacles. ...
    Rubin’s story illustrates the resistance of the scientific community to altering an established paradigm—that light is the essential gauge of mass in the universe.
  • To my mind, what Vera discovered is both more specific and more profound than the dark matter paradigm it helped to create. What she discovered observationally is that rotation curves are very nearly flat, and continue to be so to indefinitely large radius. Over and over again, for every galaxy in the sky. It is a law of nature for galaxies, akin to Kepler’s laws for planets. Dark matter is an inference, a subsidiary result. It is just one possible interpretation, a subset of amazing and seemingly unlikely possibilities opened up by her discovery.
  • I think of the time that Vera and I were spending in cold telescope domes, the wind blowing, coyotes howling off on the mesa, we would have been happy to have a warm room to sit in, whether it was in Flagstaff or a lab back home.
    • Kent Ford speaking about working with Vera in observatories. [1]
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