Vera Rubin, the astronomer who discovered dark matter has died on Sunday at the age of 88, according to her son.
Vera Rubin’s work at Carnegie Institution in Washington on galaxy rotations led to the world’s first direct evidence of dark matter in the 1970s. Many colleagues thought she was overlooked for a Nobel Prize for the discovery, as quite a few women were around that time.
According to an email from Allan Rubin, a geosciences professor at Princeton University, Rubin died on Sunday at an assisted living facility in Princeton, New Jersey after having suffered from dementia for several years.
Rubin found evidence of dark matter by studying galaxy rotations. While working with the spectrograph designer Kent Ford, she found that material at the edges of galaxies were rotating at the same rate as the material in the center.
This discovery betrayed the laws of physics. Since there was supposedly more mass at the center, such as dust stars and gas, it should move faster than at the edge, where there was less mass.
This led to the explanation that there was a “halo of dark matter” around galaxies that spread mass throughout them. There has been no dark matter that has been directly observed; only calculated.
Emily Levesque, astronomer at the University of Washington, said that Rubin deserved the Nobel Prize for her discovery, since it did revolutionize our understanding of the universe ever since.
She points out that the will of Alfred Novel, the founder of 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.”
Many took to twitter to mourn her death:
David Grinspoon said: “Oh no! A giant has passed. Great Astronomer Vera Rubin who discovered dark matter. RIP.”