Today is December 24 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you realize the edge of the universe is far beyond our grasp?” People that navigate the chaos understand the world is complex and some problems have either not been solved or not even been identified. They realize that they do not know everything and, more importantly, they understand that no one could possibly know everything. With that in mind, they realize just how complex the world is and continues to be. One such person was Vera Rubin.
Rubin developed her interest in astronomy as a young girl; her father helped her build a telescope and took her to meetings of amateur astronomers. She was the only astronomy major to graduate from Vassar College in 1948, only to learn - when she applied to graduate school at Princeton - that women were not allowed in that university’s graduate astronomy program.
She would eventually earn her doctorate from Georgetown, on whose faculty she later worked before joining the Carnegie Institution, a nonprofit scientific research center in Washington. During her career, Rubin examined more than 200 galaxies, and observed that galaxies do not rotate the way they were predicted. That lent support to the theory that some other force - “dark matter” - was at work. It was but one of her breakthrough discoveries.
As Dennis Overbye wrote in The New York Times obituary "Vera Rubin, 88, Dies; Opened Doors in Astrology, and for Women" Rubin’s pioneering work allowed scientists to understand “we are not the center of the universe, nor are we even made of the same stuff as most of creation. Cosmologists have now concluded that there is five or 10 times as much dark matter in the universe as there is ordinary atomic matter — the stuff of stars, planets and people.”
In her 1997 book, “Bright Galaxies, Dark Matters,” Rubin wrote, “No one promised that we would live in the era that would unravel the mysteries of the cosmos. The edge of the universe is far beyond our grasp. Like Columbus, perhaps like the Vikings, we have peered into a new world and have seen that it is more mysterious and more complex than we had imagined. Still, more mysteries of the universe remain hidden. Their discovery awaits the adventurous scientists of the future. I like it this way.”
Due to the many obstacles she needed to jump over as a pioneering woman in a field dominated by men, Dr. Rubin told Rebecca Oppenheimer, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History “Don’t let anyone keep you down for silly reasons such as who you are. And don’t worry about prizes and fame. The real prize is finding something new out there.”
How often do you remind yourself that the world is complex, and many questions are left unanswered?