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Pioneering Astronomer Vera Rubin who helped find powerful Evidence of Dark Matter, dies at 88

Rubin's scientific achievements earned her a National Medal of Science presented by President Bill Clinton in 1993

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FILE - NASA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the distribution of dark matter in the center of the giant galaxy cluster Abell 1689, containing about 1,000 ., (File photo). VOA
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Princeton (New Jersey), December 27, 2016: Vera Rubin, a pioneering astronomer who helped find powerful evidence of dark matter, has died, her son said Monday. She was 88.

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

Vera Rubin found that galaxies don’t quite rotate the way they were predicted, and that lent support to the theory that some other force was at work, namely dark matter.

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Dark matter, which hasn’t been directly observed, makes up 27 percent of universe – as opposed to 5 percent of the universe being normal matter. Scientists better understand what dark matter isn’t rather than what it is.

Rubin’s scientific achievements earned her numerous awards and honors, 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 barriers along the way,” California Institute of Technology physicist Sean Carroll tweeted Monday.

Vera Rubin, a pioneering astronomer who helped find powerful evidence of dark matter, has died, her son said Monday. (Screenshot of Rubin’s Twitter page.) VOA

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.

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Although Rubin said her parents were extremely supportive of her career choice, she said in a 1995 interview with the American Institute of Physics that her father had suggested she become a mathematician, concerned 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 graduate student at Princeton, she learned women were not allowed in the university’s graduate astronomy program, so she instead earned her master’s degree from Cornell University.

Rubin earned her doctorate from Georgetown University, where she later worked as a faculty member for several years before working at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, a nonprofit scientific research center.

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During her career, Rubin examined more than 200 galaxies.

“Vera Rubin was a national treasure 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.” (VOA)

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Ghostly galaxy without dark matter stuns astronomers

To find an explanation, the team is already hunting for more dark-matter deficient galaxies as they analyse Hubble images of 23 ultra-diffuse galaxies

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UFO religion as a concept is now becoming a part of popular understanding.
Countless galaxies exist in the universe, each hiding secrets that humankind is yet to unearth. Pixabay
  • Astronomers discovered galaxy missing its dark matter
  • Dark matter is believed to be integral to any galaxy
  • It is the glue which holds everything together

In a shocking discovery, astronomers have found a galaxy that is missing most — if not all — of its dark matter. This discovery of the galaxy NGC 1052-DF2, detailed in the journal Nature, challenges currently-accepted theories of and galaxy formation and provides new insights into the nature of dark matter.

Black hole in milky way
Astronomers discovered a galaxy missing its dark matter. VOA

“Dark matter is conventionally believed to be an integral part of all galaxies — the glue that holds them together and the underlying scaffolding upon which they are built,” explained study co-author Allison Merritt from Yale University in the US and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Germany.

“This invisible, mysterious substance is by far the most dominant aspect of any galaxy. Finding a galaxy without any is completely unexpected; it challenges standard ideas of how galaxies work,” said lead researcher Pieter van Dokkum of Yale University. “There is no theory that predicts these types of galaxies — how you actually go about forming one of these things is completely unknown,” Merritt said.

For the study, the researchers used the NASA/European Space Agency’s Hubble Space Telescope and several other observatories. Hubble helped to accurately confirm the distance of NGC 1052-DF2 to be 65 million light-years and determined its size and brightness.

Saraswati
Dark matter is the glue which holds everything together in a galaxy. Wikimedia

Based on these data the team discovered that the newly discovered galaxy is larger than the Milky Way, but contains about 250 times fewer stars, leading it to be classified as an ultra diffuse galaxy. “I spent an hour just staring at this image,” van Dokkum said as he recalled first seeing the Hubble image of NGC 1052-DF2.

“This thing is astonishing: a gigantic blob so sparse that you see the galaxies behind it. It is literally a see-through galaxy,” he added. Further measurements of the dynamical properties of 10 globular clusters orbiting the galaxy allowed the team to infer an independent value of the galaxies mass.

This mass is comparable to the mass of the stars in the galaxy, leading to the conclusion that NGC 1052-DF2 contains at least 400 times less dark matter than astronomers predict for a galaxy of its mass, and possibly none at all.

Also Read: Milky Way’s neighbouring galaxy is of same size, not bigger

This discovery is unpredicted by current theories on the distribution of dark matter and its influence on galaxy formation. The discovery of NGC 1052-DF2 demonstrates that dark matter is somehow separable from galaxies. This is only expected if dark matter is bound to ordinary matter through nothing but gravity.

Cosmic rays
Dark matter is integral to all galaxies. Pixabay

Meanwhile, the researchers already have some ideas about how to explain the missing dark matter in NGC 1052-DF2. Did a cataclysmic event such as the birth of a multitude of massive stars sweep out all the gas and dark matter? Or did the growth of the nearby massive elliptical galaxy NGC 1052 billions of years ago play a role in NGC 1052-DF2’s dark matter deficiency?

These ideas, however, still do not explain how this galaxy formed. To find an explanation, the team is already hunting for more dark-matter deficient galaxies as they analyse Hubble images of 23 ultra-diffuse galaxies — three of which appear to be similar to NGC 1052-DF2. IANS