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Astronomy pioneer Vera Rubin, dies at 88

In this photo, taken in the 1970s and by the Carnegie Institution of Washington Vera Rubin uses a measurement of the motor

(Carnegie Institution of Washington via AP)

PRINCETON, N. J. – Vera Rubin, a leading astronomer who helped find a robust evidence of dark matter, has died, her son said Monday.

She was 88.

Allan Rubin, a professor of geosciences at Princeton University, said that his mother died on Sunday night of natural causes. He said that the Philadelphia native had lived in the Princeton area.

Vera Rubin found that galaxies do not completely tighten the way they were predicted, and that lent support to the theory that some other force was at work, namely the dark matter.

Dark matter, which has not been directly observed, makes up 27 percent of the universe compared to 5 percent of the universe, whereas normal matter. Scientists understand better what dark matter isn’t rather than what it is.

Rubin’s scientific achievements earned her many prizes and awards, including a National Medal of Science presented by President Bill Clinton in 1993 “for her pioneering research programs in observational cosmology.” She also became the second female astronomer to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

“It goes without saying that, as a woman scientist, Vera Rubin had to overcome a number of obstacles along the way,” California Institute of Technology physicist Sean Carroll tweeted Monday.

Rubin’s interest in astronomy began as a young girl and grew with the involvement of her father, Philip Cooper, an electrical engineer who helped her build a telescope and took her to meetings of amateur astronomers.

Although Rubin said her parents were very supportive of her career choice, she said in a 1995 interview with the American Institute of Physics, which her father had suggested that they have a mathematical, afraid that it would be difficult for her to make a living as an astronomer.

She was the only astronomy major to graduate from Vassar College in 1948. When she sought to enroll as a student at the university of Princeton, she taught the women not allowed in the university’s graduate astronomy program, so they instead earned her master’s degree from Cornell University.

Rubin earned her phd at the University of Georgetown, where she later worked as a member of the faculty for several years, before working at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, a non-profit scientific research center.

During her career, Rubin examined more than 200 galaxies.

“Vera Rubin was a national treasure and as an accomplished astronomer and a wonderful role model for young scientists,” said Matthew Scott, president of the Carnegie Institution. “We are very saddened by this loss.”

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