It's Official: Vera Rubin Observatory Named to Honor Dark Matter Scientist

HONOLULU — A U.S. facility designed in part to solve the mysteries of dark matter now officially carries the name of Vera Rubin, the scientist who concluded that the elusive substance must exist.

That announcement came Monday (Jan. 6) here, at the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, during an open house devoted to what to date has been called the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). However, the name change had been in the works since the summer, when Congress began discussing a bill that would create the new moniker. That bill became a law on Dec. 20.

"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."

Video: NSF Vera C. Rubin Observatory Will Be Revolutionary
Vera Rubin: The Astronomer Who Brought Dark Matter to Light

A photo of astronomer Vera Rubin. (Image credit: NOAO/AURA/NSF)

Gaume's comments were met by applause from the gathered astronomers. Observatory director Steve Kahn and other team members soon donned T-shirts sporting the new name.

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory is a federal project run by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy. Its first 10 years of work will be dedicated entirely to a project now known as the Legacy Survey of Space and Time. "Because we know you're all in love with the four letters LSST, we figured out a way to preserve that," Gaume said.

Until her death in 2016, Rubin was frequently listed as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in physics. Her most consequential realization was that galaxies rotate so quickly that they ought to fly apart. The fact that they don't, she reasoned, is proof that there is a massive amount of, well, something in the universe that humans cannot yet study directly — what we now call dark matter.

But Rubin, who was born in 1928, struggled throughout her career to convince others to treat her based on the merits of her work, rather than on her sex. When she did make traction in the community, she worked to share that acceptance with others.

"She has multiple legacies of, of course, the major science work, the major discoveries and the major legacy of paving way for young people and especially women," Kathy Turner, program manager of the Department of Energy's Office of High Energy Physics, said during the presentation. "Speaking especially as a woman and as a physicist, I feel honored to be part of this project."

Another new name is also in the works, that one for a specific instrument in order to honor the private donation that kickstarted the LSST project before it was adopted by the federal government. The presentation included a thorough primer on how to use each of the names in scientific writing. "We'll all get used to this as we go along," Kahn said.

The panel also included an update on the facility's construction, given by project manager Victor Krabbendam. "The summit facility is looking really good," he said, sharing images of optical equipment at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory site, which is located on a mountain ridge called Cerro Pachón, in Chile. However, he did add that some aspects of the project have been progressing more slowly and at a higher cost than previously expected, and that the team is pushing the schedule to meet its goal of taking "first light" data with its full-observing capacity in November 2021.

That first data could be a vital step toward solving the dark-matter puzzle that Rubin discovered on her way to becoming a major figure in astronomy. Turner recounted that her initial encounter with Rubin's research, as a college student, was a crucial moment on her own path to becoming a physicist, and the way her respect for Rubin has deepened over time.

"[I remember] thinking, yes, science is a field that women have a right to be in and a right to pursue, and we don't have to take no for an answer," Turner said. "Her dogged determination to be recognized for her work was really something that stood out to me when I read more detail about her."

Email Meghan Bartels at or follow her @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Meghan Bartels
Senior Writer

Meghan is a senior writer at and has more than five years' experience as a science journalist based in New York City. She joined in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.

  • rod
    Admin said:
    A U.S. facility — designed in part to solve the mysteries of dark matter — now officially carries the name of the scientist who concluded that the elusive substance must exist.

    It's Official: Vera Rubin Observatory Named to Honor Dark Matter Scientist : Read more

    In 1933, Zwicky was discussing dark matter too :)
  • zwickygalaxy
    I was denied the opportunity to present my opposition to H.R. 3196 before the House and the Senate nor did I receive a response from any one of them.

    If my father were alive today, he would be appalled to have his name/work associated with Vera Rubin, who attached herself in parasitic fashion to his groundbreaking work on Dark Matter, and failed to acknowledge his pioneering discovery while advancing self-promotion in conjunction with Carnegie among others.

    Rubin has been a constant nuisance to my father's legacy in regard to Dark Matter and often took false credit for its discovery, crowning herself as "Discoverer of Dark Matter." The naming of LSST after Rubin, is an undeserved honor for this celebrated plagiarist.

    Vera Rubin was celebrated in the press and by several institutions for her work in specific in regard to Dark Matter, my father's discovery, as well as responsible for the roughshod over my father, his memory, and credit for his original work, by falsely assigning that credit to herself in numerous incidents involving the media and even nomenclature of her lecture: “I left Vassar and Found Dark Matter.” I consider Vera Rubin a person who attached herself to my father's original work in parasitic forced credit, repeatedly advanced this unethical agenda and academic dishonesty, crowning herself as “Discoverer of Dark Matter,” the published achievement of another. Rubin's dictates of conscience revealed a failed ethical compass as she assigned herself credit for my father's methodology and that of others in the sciences in regard to the mathematical calculations in regard to the rotational speeds of galaxies, as well as claiming to be the “Discoverer of Dark Matter.” Vera Rubin was a constant unwanted barnacle that was attached to my father's discovery, Dark Matter. The advancement of bringing the gravitational phenomena of Dark Matter to light and into the modern consciousness of physicists worldwide would have regardless been unsealed from the echoes of my father's original work in 1933. Fritz Zwicky: “I consequently engaged in the application of certain simple general principles of morphological research, and in particular the method of Directed Intuition that would allow me to predict and visualize the existence of as yet unknown cosmic objects and phenomena.” Fritz Zwicky's eidolon was realized from the results of his observations published in “Die Rotverschiebung von extragalaktischen Nebeln”, Helv. Phys. Acta 6, 110-127 (1933). English translation Johannes Nicolai Meyling – Barbarina Exita Zwicky (2013). Fritz Zwicky discovered Dark Matter and coined, dunkle (kalte) Materie (cold dark matter) in his 1933 article referenced above. The Mass-Radial Acceleration Discrepancy by measuring the speeds of galaxies in the Coma Cluster originated with Fritz Zwicky, not Rubin, as using the more challenging methodology of the virial theorem, by relating the total average kinetic energy and the total average potential energy of the galaxies of the Coma Cluster. He advanced that the virial for a pair of orbiting masses is zero, and used the principle of superposition to craft the argument to a system of interacting mass points. Zwicky then used the position and velocity measurements to determine the mass of the galaxy cluster. The LSST will endeavor to discover Dark Matter and should not be renamed at all, and certainly not after Vera Rubin, who plagiarized discovery in regard to Dark Matter, without acknowledgment of its provenance and pioneer, Fritz Zwicky, and deprives rightful illumination to the Father of Dark Matter. It will highlight this interloper and celebrate this forced credit from the rightful person due, Fritz Zwicky, by memorializing the name of LSST after this faux “pioneer” and self-proclaimed “Discoverer of Dark Matter.”
  • paulbel
    Does the Maria MItchell Observatory on Nantucket not count as a U.S. Observatory, or does Maria Mitchell not count as an astronomer?