Pioneering American astronomer Vera Rubin once mentored fellow aspiring female astronomers and advocated for women in science. It’s fitting that the first national US observatory named for a female astronomer is in her honor.
Once known as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), it will now be called the NSF Vera C. Rubin Observatory. The observatory, located in Chile but run by America’s National Science Foundation, will begin science operations in 2022. It is designed to map the Milky Way, explore dark energy and dark matter, survey the solar system and explore the transient sky.
Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón and US House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairwoman. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson pushed to rename the observatory and it was enacted into law on December 20.
The announcement was made on Tuesday at the 235th American Astronomical Society meeting in Honolulu.
“We are pleased that LSST has now been named the Vera C. Rubin Observatory,” said Rubin’s sons Allan Rubin, David Rubin, and Karl Rubin in a statement. “We believe that this is a great way to honor our mother’s achievements in astronomy and her work for equal rights for women in science.”
Rubin, considered to be one of the most influential female astronomers, provided some of the first evidence that dark matter – which comprises much of the universe but can’t be seen – existed.
“Named after an astronomer who provided important evidence of the existence of dark matter, the NSF Vera C. Rubin Observatory is set to make science history with its extraordinary capabilities that will come to bear in the next few years,” said France Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation. “Congress has helped make this inspiring commemoration a reality. The Rubin Observatory is expected to significantly advance what we know about dark matter and dark energy, so the Rubin name will have yet another way to inspire women and men eager to investigate.”
Rubin, who died in 2016, was voted into the National Academy of Sciences and received the National Medal of Science, among other honors. She was active in observational astronomy, but is most known for her work in the determination between motions of matter in galaxies, both observed and predicted. This provides evidence for dark matter since it has a gravitational imprint but emits no observable light.
Despite her success, Rubin encountered sexism early on as a female astronomer. But her work and advocacy helped pave the way for women who came after her.
“It is fitting for this major new observatory, which includes the study of dark matter and dark energy as one of the major research topics, to be named for a pioneering astronomer whose observations were so critical to our understanding of this area,” said Paul Dabbar, Department of Energy undersecretary for science. “Dr. Rubin’s life and singular achievements as a scientist remain a model for all those seeking to satisfy humanity’s unceasing curiosity about our universe.”