- The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe by Sandra Nickel
Trade ed. ISBN 9781419736261 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781647003210 $15.54
Reviewed from digital galleys R 6–9 yrs
Astronomer Vera Rubin’s story shares similar plot points with that of other young stargazers—observation and wonder, avid reading, a homemade telescope. Vera, though, pondered not only astral bodies but the observed void between them. After a determined but rocky start she worked her way through a PhD, talked her way into a job with access to the powerful Palomar telescope, and struggled to gain a respectful hearing in largely male professional societies that routinely ridiculed or ignored her theories about the movement of stars. However, she patiently accrued evidence that stars at the outer edges of galaxies moved at unexpectedly high speeds, which strongly suggested the existence of dark matter affecting that speed, and what was once considered fringe speculation now demanded focused research. Rubin (or anyone else since, for that matter) was unable to determine what it was made of, but “the senior astronomers stopped shaking their heads. . . . She had shown that the mysterious dark matter made up more than 80 percent of the matter of the universe.” Nickel’s narrative parallels Rubin’s research focus and her scientific career—bright, high-velocity outliers that mainstream scientists stubbornly refuse to believe in—and that intertwining of themes extends interest to both history and science audiences. Sicuro’s watercolor, ink, and charcoal pencil scenes ably track decades of women-in-science history as Rubin works alone while her family sleeps in a dollhouse-like cutaway, snarkily protests men-only Palomar washrooms, and finally triumphantly floats free in among the galaxies: “Vera was no longer at the edge of astronomy. She was at its very center.” Notes on Rubin’s research, a timeline, source notes, and bibliography are appended.