Dark matter is a wild concept. It’s the idea that some mind-boggling percentage of all the matter in the universe may be invisible, and wholly unlike the matter that makes up Earth. Rubin is celebrated because she forced much of the astronomy community to take it seriously.
That reckoning moment came in 1985, when she stood in front of the International Astronomical Union and walked the audience through some of the data she had collected.
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Her data showed that stars at the edges of multiple galaxies were moving in ways that didn’t make sense, according to the rules of physics. One possible explanation for this strange phenomenon, Rubin suggested, was the existence of a mysterious “dark matter” at the edges of the galaxy. In the decades since that talk, research into dark matter has exploded, revolutionizing astronomy.
In Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond, a new biography of Rubin, science journalist Ashley Yeager explains how Rubin, who died in 2016, grew from a young researcher whose bold ideas were initially ignored into the kind of scientist who could change an entire field. In 2020, we interviewed Yeager for an episode of the Unexplainable podcast about dark matter. A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.