Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond
The Life of Astronomer Vera Rubin
- 2022 PROSE Award Finalist, Biography & Autobiography
How Vera Rubin convinced the scientific community that dark matter might exist, persevering despite early dismissals of her work.
We now know that the universe is mostly dark, made up of particles and forces that are undetectable even by our most powerful telescopes. The discovery of the possible existence of dark matter and dark energy signaled a Copernican-like revolution in astronomy: not only are we not the center of the universe, neither is the stuff of which we're made. Astronomer Vera Rubin (1928–2016) played a pivotal role in this discovery. By showing that some astronomical objects seem to defy gravity's grip, Rubin helped convince the scientific community of the possibility of dark matter. In Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond, Ashley Jean Yeager tells the story of Rubin's life and work, recounting her persistence despite early dismissals of her work and widespread sexism in science.
Yeager describes Rubin's childhood fascination with stars, her education at Vassar and Cornell, and her marriage to a fellow scientist. At first, Rubin wasn't taken seriously; she was a rarity, a woman in science, and her findings seemed almost incredible. Some observatories in midcentury America restricted women from using their large telescopes; Rubin was unable to collect her own data until a decade after she had earned her PhD. Still, she continued her groundbreaking work, driving a scientific revolution. She received the National Medal of Science in 1993, but never the Nobel Prize—perhaps overlooked because of her gender. She's since 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.
“A mesmerizing and worthy complement to Rubin's own Bright Galaxies, Dark Matters, Yeager's tender portrait illuminates the scientific soul of one of history's most brilliant navigators of the heavens.”
Brian Keating, Chancellor's Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of California, San Diego; author of Losing the Nobel Prize
“In this meticulously researched and beautifully written biography, Ashley Yeager elucidates the determination with which Vera Rubin swung at a cosmological piñata until its treasures burst forth. She also deftly explicates the importance of Rubin's pioneering work.”
Linda Schweizer, author of Cosmic Odyssey
“Yeager explains the science of the unseen mass that holds galaxies together with sprightly, accessible language and shows Vera Rubin to be a luminary and binding force of the global community of dark-matter astrophysicists."
Emily Lakdawalla, space journalist; author of The Design and Engineering of Curiosity
“A compelling life of a top-notch scientist.”
“[A] moving debut biography... for those not familiar with Rubin's achievements, this is a good place to start.”
“Many astronomers and cosmologists had worked on this non-intuitive idea of dark matter, but Yeager shows the full context and importance of Rubin's work…Rubin also liked to unearth, and popularize, stories of women in the history of science. Her own story will doubtless inspire generations to come thanks, in part, to this excellent biography.”
“[An] insightful biography”