Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond

With Ashley Jean Yeager

Join us to discover how astronomer Vera Rubin’s persistence, after her work was initially dismissed, finally convinced the scientific community that dark matter might exist. It is now taken for granted that the universe is mostly dark, made up of particles that are undetectable even by our most powerful telescopes. This discovery of the possible existence of dark matter signaled a Copernican-like revolution in astronomy: not only are we no longer the center of the universe, but even the stuff we’re made of appears to be insignificant. By showing that some astronomical objects seem to exaggerate gravity’s grip, Rubin played a pivotal role in this discovery.

Yeager tells the story of Rubin’s childhood fascination with stars, and her scientific education at Vassar and Cornell. She became a rarity, a woman in science, and her findings were equally incredible to her colleagues. Since some observatories still restricted women from using their large telescopes, Rubin was unable to collect her own data until a decade after she had earned her Ph.D. But in 1993 she received the National Medal of Science for her groundbreaking work. She’s also been memorialized with a ridge on Mars, an asteroid, a galaxy, and most recently the Vera C. Rubin Observatory—the first national observatory named after a woman.