Do you know Vera Rubin?

July 23 is the birthday of the famous astronomer Vera Rubin, who helped us realize that the universe that is possible is only a small part of the real universe.

You may have heard of Dark Matter; Especially since most of the universe is used by stakeholders to distort science as something we cannot understand. Dark matter is the name given to invisible objects from the realization that there are a few invisible objects in space that cannot be seen directly through telescopes. This is the story of Vera Rubin, who computed dark matter in the 1970s, when no significant space observation was possible without light. The story of a woman who opened the scientific way to see what is not in pictures with mathematics.

Vera was born in 1928 in Philadelphia. At the age of ten, Vera took an interest in astronomy by observing the stars slowly moving through the night sky as he lay in bed through the window of his room. The stars were pointed out by friends but were not rooted, they just wanted to see the stars as stars. (The same attitude that led to Vera’s major discoveries led others to find curiosity in things that others thought were trivial and natural!) (There must have been a little bit of misogyny in not encouraging a kid to talk about astronomy all the time!) One of the high school physics teachers advised Vera, “As long as you stay away from science, you should do OK.” But Vera’s curiosity did not dampen any of it.

Vera graduated from college in 1948; In the same year she married Robert. Vera was admitted to Cornell University after trying unsuccessfully to gain admission to a postgraduate degree in many places because she was a woman; In 1951, Vera passed away. Vera then received her doctorate from Georgetown University in 1954; The doctoral thesis was about how galaxies were distributed. (This is a topic that is still relevant research today) The doctorate would have been awarded, but since women did not have access to the astronomy department building, Vera had to consult an advisor in the department lobby or in another department’s library during her doctorate.

Vera, who made his research on cosmology and quasars, received little attention. Vera’s observations on the evolution of the universe are now known as the Rubin-Ford effect. In 1963, Vera turned his attention to galaxies; Vera’s focus was on the stars orbiting the center, as much research was done at the galaxy at the time. We must realize that astronomy has to make relevant observations in this area, probably because of the nature of Vera, who is curious about what others are not!

Vera first reviewed the rotation of the Andromeda Galaxy, which is clearly visible near us. It turned out to be a very difficult job. At first glance, Andromeda does not rotate as predicted by the law of gravity as we know it (General Theory of Relativity)! Therefore, Vera knew that such a result should be published only after a thorough review, and the review, which began in 1963, was published in 1970. Vera then republished relevant papers in 1980 and 1985, observing other galaxies. (Vera was not the sole author of any of these, but Vera was the only one to have had a series of these.) The same problem exists in other galaxies.

Astronomers call this observation the “Galaxy Rotation Problem”. To simplify this, let us take the solar system as an example. The Sun is almost entirely the mass of the Solar System; Therefore, the farther away from the Sun, the slower the rotation of the surrounding objects. For example, Mars is slower than Earth, Saturn is slower, Jupiter is slower, and so on. A large part of the mass of stars in the spiral galaxy is similarly centered in the center. (Not centered around the Sun, but similarly so) Therefore, the speed of rotation should decrease as it approaches the edges of galaxies; But Vera’s observation is that the speed does not change significantly beyond a certain speed.

(Not only that, it’s a bit more complicated at speed, it’s not elaborating on the whole story for the time being.)

As a solution to this, Vera suggested that there is something invisible in galaxies. That is, the invisible to the root light was seen by gravity. In the 1985 paper, Vera was able to calculate the location of this invisible (dark) matter in galaxies. There have been speculations before that there is something invisible in space, but Vera was the first to observe what we call dark matter.

But there was also a possibility that the theory of relativity in the 1980s may have been wrong in response to the galaxy rotation problem. But we do know that mass light bends from the theory of relativity itself. Dark matter has been found in such curves, including in our galaxy, where it is theoretically thought to have dark matter; Therefore, the interpretation that the theory of relativity is wrong is not currently accepted in the scientific world as the answer to this question.

Vera’s 1970s observation was not easily accepted. There was a lot of speculation that the nebula was gas, if not a star, to explain dark matter. However, these must be observed at other frequencies of light (eg, infrared). All in all, the galaxy does not come close to the mass needed to explain its rotation. That is, there is something in space that does not yield to light. There is nothing more disturbing to astronomers. (Understanding what works is also particle physics, and I’m not going there for the time being because it’s not my field) So, the acceptance of dark matter was very slow.

Today, however, dark matter is part of the modern material understanding. Dark matter is an integral part of many observations, not only for the galaxy rotation problem, but also for the Big Bang models. Dark matter is not something that is doubtful whether it exists or not; Thus a common misconception is also widely corrected in this case. The only doubt is what particle / combination of particles is dark matter; There is no doubt that there is.

After studying dark matter, Vera worked extensively on astronomy, including observing the orbits of galaxies and becoming a textbook author on the subject. Vera, who has experienced a lot of sexism all her life, did everything she could to bring women into science and astronomy. Vera accepted a lot of girls as doctoral candidates and tried to teach otherwise; Vera also spoke out strongly against the selection of women in the National Academy of Sciences elections. Vera was also ready for popular science campaigns to bring science to the masses.

Vera continued her research and teaching until her death in 2016.

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