The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), a U.S.-run, Chile-based facility, has been re-named the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in honour of the groundbreaking astronomer who provided evidence on the existence of dark matter.

It is the first national U.S. observatory named after a female astronomer.

The announcement was made Monday at the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society but the decision to rename the dark matter research base after Rubin has been in talks since the summer, according to LiveScience.

“We’re here today to focus on the major renaming of the facility after a pioneering astronomer, that is intimately tied to one of the key focus science areas for this project,” Ralph Gaume, Director of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Astronomical Sciences, said during the event.

“I’m pleased, very pleased, beyond how much you all know and may recognize, to today officially rename the LSST observatory as the Vera C. Rubin Observatory.”

Professional struggles

Rubin faced numerous gender-based hurdles throughout her career, often having to fight for access to resources that were given to her male colleagues.

In 1948, she was the only astronomy major to graduate from Vassar and had hoped to earn a Ph.D. at Princeton, but the astrophysics graduate program did not admit women at the time and refused to send her a course catalogue. 

She instead went to Cornell to obtain a master’s degree and completed it in 1951 while raising four young children.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Rubin and her colleague Kent Ford discovered that stars within spiral galaxies weren’t spinning in accordance to the laws of physics — leading to the conclusion that an unseen mass must be influencing their rotation. That “mass” is now known as dark matter.

Rubin was a champion of women in STEM, working in astrophysics at a time when few women were visible in the field.

‘Forgotten’ by the Nobel academy

While often cited as a favourite to win a Nobel Prize, Rubin was never granted the award. She died in 2016 at the age of 88, and the prize cannot be awarded posthumously.

Lawmakers said re-naming the observatory in her honour will help her legacy continue.

“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, per CNN.

“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.”

Image courtesy: NOAO/AURA/NSF