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Heroes of Space: Vera Rubin

Posted: 25 Mar 2018 07:00 PM PDT

Rubin, who is most famous for her inferring the existence of dark matter, is seen here measuring spectra

Rubin, who is most famous for her inferring the existence of dark matter, is seen here measuring spectra

Vera Rubin was born in Philadelphia, USA in 1928. Her father worked as an electrical engineer, her mother for the Bell Telephone Company and her sister pursued a career as an administrative judge. Rubin was different, however, and was always fascinated by physics and astronomy.

After earning her undergraduate degree at Vassar College, Rubin attempted to enroll at Princeton University where she hoped to continue her dreams of becoming an astronomer. But despite her obvious talent, she was told that “Princeton does not accept women”. This extremely unfair policy was not lifted until 1975.

Rubin wasn't put off and applied to Cornell University where she was accepted onto a Master's degree. She studied under highly respected physicists Philip Morrison, Richard Feynman and Hans Bethe. During this time, and unknown to her, she would make one of the first observations of the motions of galaxies. At the time it was suggested that galaxies moved outwards in accordance with the Big Bang theory, but Rubin figured that these structures swirled around some unknown centre. Unfortunately, her suggestion was not well received by the scientific community. Undeterred, she went on to earn her PhD in 1954 from Georgetown University in Washington DC. Her advisor was George Gamow, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist who was an early supporter of the Big Bang theory. Under his supervision, the young Rubin concluded that galaxies were clumped together in clusters, rather than randomly distributed throughout the universe. The idea of galaxy clusters was ludicrous according to the majority of scientists and it wasn't for another two decades that they would be persuaded otherwise.

In 1965, she successfully became the first woman to be granted permission to use the instruments at Palomar Observatory, California. In the same year, Rubin successfully secured a position at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, where she began work on galaxy clusters – what she found was even more extraordinary than her previous work and would have consequences for our understanding of today's cosmos. When Rubin observed her galaxies, she found that their rotation curves didn't match up to theory. What could the explanation be?

Dark matter cannot be seen directly with telescopes

Dark matter cannot be seen directly with telescopes

Little did she know, she had found the first indicator for dark matter, an elusive material believed to make up around 25 per cent of the "missing" mass of the universe. Rubin knew that her new findings would be criticised and so, in a bid to avoid it, she decided to slant her research more towards the study of the rotation curves of singular galaxies, rather than the wildly debated galaxy clusters. She began her research with our closest spiral, the Andromeda galaxy.

Luckily, her theory was greeted with open minds as well as prestigious awards. Rubin believed that since galaxies are rotating so fast, the gravity that holds the stars together alone wouldn't be enough to stop the structure from flying apart. There must be something – an unseen mass – holding them together. This binding material would be dark matter.

However, Rubin admitted that she prefers the alternate theory to dark matter, known as MoND (Modified Newtonian Dynamics), a theory that has very little support. "If I could have my pick, I would like to learn that Newton's laws must be modified in order to correctly describe gravitational interactions at large distances," she has said. "That's more appealing than a universe filled with a new kind of sub- nuclear particle."

Keep up to date with the latest reviews in All About Space – available every month for just £4.99. Alternatively you can subscribe here for a fraction of the price!

Space Rocks: Band Arcane Roots joins set of new space and music event

Posted: 25 Mar 2018 09:35 AM PDT

One of the most exciting and innovative live bands to come out of the UK in recent years Arcane Roots, will be performing a unique synth set exclusively at Space Rocks, an incredible live show that unites space with the art, music and culture it inspires. Space Rocks, which is in association with the European Space Agency (ESA), will be taking place at the indigo at The O2 in London on 22 April and hosted by Dallas Campbell.

Arcane Roots, who have been compared to the likes of Biffy Clyro, Sigur Rós and Radiohead, will be joining a plethora of stars including the Discovery Channel’s Meteorite Men Geoff Notkin and Steve Arnold, musical polymath and former Ash guitarist Charlotte Hatherley, Lonely Robot, bestselling science-fiction author Alastair Reynolds, Rosetta comet-lander project scientist Dr Matt Taylor, astrophysicist Dr Maggie Lieu and  ESA astronaut Tim Peake.

“We’re extremely proud and very excited to be playing a special set at the first-ever Space Rocks on 22 April. Having visited the European Space Agency (ESA) recently, we potentially have some more collaborations with them soon and hopefully, it’s the beginning of a very cool relationship,” says Arcane Roots’ Andrew Groves. “We can’t wait to see what we can do together and for people to hear what we have in store.”

Twin V Ltd director and Space Rocks co-founder Alexander Milas, adds: “Space Rocks is a celebration of our innately human fascination with the stars, and that's reflected in so many different areas of culture – the addition of Arcane Roots' truly mesmerising and cosmic take on music is hugely exciting to us, and we can't wait to see the unique set they have planned for us. And as for the truly excellent Meteorite Men and Aereolite Meteorites joining us in the Space Lounge, well, we couldn't have Space Rocks without space rocks, could we?"

Arcane Roots, Charlotte Hatherley and Lonely Robot will lead the Space Rocks Live session, while Session One and Session Two will take the form of a Space Academy and Science Fiction vs Space Fact, respectively:

Session One (12.30pm – 2.30pm) – Space Academy

Perfect for children (and their families), this session will feature demonstrations and discussions by ESA scientists, engineers and friends, including British ESA astronaut Tim Peake, astrophysicist Dr Maggie Lieu, Antarctic medical researcher Dr. Beth Healey and Rosetta comet-lander project scientist Dr Matt Taylor. From the most recent developments in space science to what is currently occupying the great minds of space exploration, this is an opportunity to get answers to those unanswered questions from the experts themselves. There will also be a rocket-design competition for the under-16s, with special space prizes to be won.

Session Two (3.30pm – 6pm) – Science Fiction vs. Space Fact

Science Fiction vs. Space Fact will look at popular portrayals of space and space exploration and see how they stack up next to the work being done every day, featuring ESA senior science advisor Professor Mark McCaughrean and science fiction bestseller Dr Alastair Reynolds, with more names soon to be announced.

Space Rocks takes place at the indigo at The O2 in London on Sunday 22 April. Book your tickets now! For updates follow Space Rocks on Twitter and Facebook