cover image Vera Rubin: A Life

Vera Rubin: A Life

Jacqueline Mitton and Simon Mitton. Belknap, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-674-91919-8

Married astronomers Jacqueline and Simon Mitton offer a vivid biography of trailblazing astronomer Vera Rubin (1928–2016). Rubin’s work in the 1950s fueled discoveries in cosmology, extragalactic astronomy, and the mystery of dark matter, and opened the field to women scientists. The younger of two daughters in a close-knit Jewish family, Rubin was “naturally curious and observant” and fascinated by the stars. Despite a high school physics class run like “a big macho boys’ club,” Rubin earned a scholarship to Vassar College, where women held “the highest faculty positions in astronomy” and “the concept of women astronomers was normal.” In fellow physics student Bob Rubin, whom she married, Rubin found a partner who supported her professional choices as their family grew. Rubin’s master’s thesis, a study of the rotation rates of spiral galaxies, set the stage for her later work, which delivered data indicating dark matter must exist. The authors present an accessible and concise history of modern astrophysics alongside the biography, which brims with insight into Rubin’s commitment to getting more women into astronomy and her deep fascination with the mysteries of the universe. Stargazers will be delighted by this spirited account. (Feb.)