(July 23, 1928-December 25, 2016)
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Birth name was Vera Cooper
With instrument maker Kent Ford, measured the rotational speeds of hundreds of galaxies
Found that the galaxies were rotating so fast that they should have flown apart if the only thing holding them together was the gravitational force produced by their constituent stars
Discovery was the one of the most important pieces of evidence for the existence of ‘dark matter’ (matter that does not interact with, and thus cannot be detected by, light and other electromagnetic radiation)
Why she might be annoying
She admitted that the data in her graduate thesis, concerning ‘non-Hubble flow’ in the movement of galaxies through the universe, was ‘scant.’
A paper based on her thesis was rejected by both the ‘Astronomical Journal’ and ‘Astrophysical Journal.’
She took up measuring galaxy rotational speeds to avoid the controversy of her graduate thesis, only to open up a far bigger debate.
She had hoped that her discoveries would require modification of Newton’s gravitational theory and was ‘disappointed’ when dark matter emerged as the accepted explanation.
Why she might not be annoying
She was married to Robert Rubin for 50 years until his death.
She was a tireless advocate for women in science.
She recalled that when she told her high school physics teacher that she had received a scholarship to Vassar, ‘He said to me, ‘As long as you stay away from sicence, you should be okay.’ It takes an enormous self-esteem to listen to things like that and not be demolished.’
She was the first woman allowed to use the instruments at Palomar Observatory.
She was the first woman since Caroline Herschel to win the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1996).
She said, ‘Fame is fleeting, my numbers mean more to me than my name. If astronomers are still using my data years from now, that’s my greatest compliment.’
Credit: C. Fishel
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