Vera Rubin's Groundbreaking Evidence Of Invisible Dark Matter

Brilliance | Dec. 19, 2017

American astronomer Vera Rubin confirmed the existence of dark matter. The existence of the mysterious space stuff was proposed by the Swiss astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky in the 1930s, but Rubin is the one who confirmed it.

What's The Big Deal?

How do we know that something we can't find is really there? We can't see or detect dark matter, but over the years, scientists have presented research that allows them to infer its existence. Dark matter is the invisible, undetectable stuff (and we say stuff because no one really knows what it's made of) that makes up a sizable chunk of the universe, and does not absorb or emit light. It took a woman named Vera Rubin to provide the first evidence of its existence.

Why It's Relevant

Dark matter was first suggested in the 1930s, when astronomers began weighing galaxies and observed that they were a lot heavier than expected. In the 1970s, astronomer Vera Rubin took this research a step further, working with a new spectograph to determine that stars on the edges of galaxies were moving faster than expected. Previous calculations of galaxies only used the visible matter in them, and the result of those calculations suggested the stars on the edges were moving slowly. The discrepancy in star speeds is thought to be due to dark matter. Rubin's discovery was presented in 1980 in an influential paper that recognized dark matter as a critical mystery for astronomers to uncover. Watch the videos below for more on Rubin and dark matter. The pioneering astronomer and advocate for women in science passed away at the age of 88 on December 25, 2016.

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