Astronomer Vera Rubin passed away Sunday. You should know about her if you don't.

Astronomer Vera Rubin passed away Dec. 25, 2016, at the age of 88.

Vera Rubin. Photo by Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Rubin was a pioneer in her field — one of the few prominent women astronomers of her time, who, in an era of oppressive professional sexism, uncovered some of the best evidence of the existence of dark matter — the mysterious stuff that we can't see that binds the universe together.


In addition to contributing to one of the major scientific discoveries of the 20th century, she was also a no-nonsense badass who fought for gender equality in her field from the beginning of the career to the end of her life.

Here are just a few of the ways she showed up:

1. She was blunt about the problems women faced in science — and knew exactly where to place the blame.

Rubin (second from left) with colleagues at the Women in Astronomy and Space Science Conference. Photo by NASA.

According to her NPR obituary, Rubin was fantastically upfront about the injustice and institutionalized misogyny that kept women out of jobs in STEM fields, noting that Rubin carried three basic assumptions with her at all times:

"(1) There is no problem in science that can be solved by a man that cannot be solved by a woman.

(2) Worldwide, half of all brains are in women.

(3) We all need permission to do science, but, for reasons that are deeply ingrained in history, this permission is more often given to men than to women."



Hard to argue with that.

2. She presented her graduate thesis to a room full of the most prominent astronomers in the world — while pregnant.

While in graduate school in the 1950s, Rubin discovered something anomalous about the space just outside our cosmic neighborhood — a region that was more densely packed with galaxies than those that surrounded it.

But when her adviser suggested she present her findings to the American Astronomical Society, he offered to present it for her because Rubin was set to deliver her first child a month before the meeting and he assumed she would be too consumed with the demands of motherhood to attend.

"Oh, I can go,'" she said matter-of-factly. And go she did.

She stumped her way through the presentation, where her work was largely dismissed by the review panel of accomplished, skeptical male scientists (and never published). Years later, however, astronomers confirmed the significance of her findings: Rubin had discovered the super-galactic plane, the "belt" around the supercluster of galaxies that includes the Milky Way — without anyone, including her, realizing it.

3. She once integrated the bathrooms at an all-male observatory by force.

"No girls allowed. Nah nah Pbbbbffffbbbtt." Photo by Coneslayer/Wikimedia Commons.

Early in her career, Rubin was invited to observe at Caltech's Palomar Observatory — the first woman ever allowed to work inside the testosterone-laden facility. The observatory was such a boys club that there was no ladies room on the premises.

"She went to her room, she cut up paper into a skirt image, and she stuck it on the little person image on the door of the bathroom," Neta Bahcall, a former colleague, told Astronomy Magazine in a June 2016 interview. "She said, 'There you go; now you have a ladies’ room.'"

4. She never won the Nobel Prize, and despite the many outraged on her behalf, she didn't really care.

No woman has won the Nobel Prize in physics for over 50 years — not due, according to many professionals in the field, to lack of qualified candidates, of whom Rubin was the most prominent.

Rubin, however, was dismissive of the snub as she felt her work spoke for itself.

"Fame is fleeting," Rubin said, in a 1990 interview with Discover Magazine. "My numbers mean more to me than my name. If astronomers are still using my data years from now, that's my greatest compliment."

5. She was only active on Twitter for one day — and used that time to tell girls who love science to ignore the haters.

An OECD study from 2015 found that girls equaled or outperformed boys in school performance in most countries but expressed lower confidence in their math abilities.  

On Feb. 3, 2016, Vera Rubin signed on to Twitter. She tweeted this:

She signed off the social media site for good shortly after but not before tweeting one final look at the cosmos — a simulated image of all the dark matter in the universe a short time after the Big Bang.

Because of Rubin, we can do more than admire the beauty of the universe; we can start to break down the mystery piece by piece, layer by layer. And we can do it no matter who we are, where we come from, or however many barriers stand in our way.

Rest in peace.

True

Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

Keep Reading Show less

Electing Donald Trump to be president of the United States set an incredibly ugly example for the nation's youth.

We know how it's affected the national discourse of regular adults. But there's no denying the conduct of a president impacts how children around the world see the example being set for them. Every day for the past four years, children have been subjected to the behavior of a divisive figure that many of their parents chose to exalt to the most powerful office in the world.

Sure, adults can make excuses for him saying he's an "imperfect messenger" or that they "didn't vote for him to be reverend," but these are all just ways to rationalize voting for a man with zero character. What a message to send to children: Act awful and you'll be handsomely rewarded.

But what if you took away the "Trump" name and examined the character traits of him as an ordinary person? More specifically, what if your daughter came to you and said this was the kind of person she was planning to date? Well, one MAGA family found out and the results are funny, insightful and quite revealing about how we somehow hold our leaders to different and lower standards than we expect from ourselves in our day to day lives.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less
via Jody Danielle Fisher / Facebook

Breast milk is an incredibly magical food. The wonderful thing is that it's produced by a collaboration between mother and baby.

British mother Jody Danielle Fisher shared the miracle of this collaboration on Facebook recently after having her 13-month-old child vaccinated.

In the post, she compared the color of her breast milk before and after the vaccination, to show how a baby's reaction to the vaccine has a direct effect on her mother's milk production.

Keep Reading Show less

"I cried, and I'm not even American!" That's one of the thousands of comments posted on the newest Black Eyed Peas video, which has been viewed more than 28 million times in one week on YouTube. "THE LOVE" with Jennifer Hudson and Black Eyed Peas was produced by will.i.am and it might be the most powerful campaign-ad-that's-not-actually-a-campaign-ad that's ever been made.

The video is a remake of the Black Eyed Peas' popular song "Where is the Love," but with revised lyrics and a powerful opening of Jennifer Hudson singing along with Joe Biden's DNC speech. As Biden recalls the events of Charlottesville, the video shows clips of news coverage from three years ago, followed by the prayerful chorus, "Father, father, father help us. Send some guidance from above, because people got me, got me, questioning, 'Where is the love?'" Soon will.i.am comes in rapping about the hatred in the world today, we see more of Biden's words backed up by the music, and the effect of the whole thing is just deeply moving.

Keep Reading Show less