Vera Rubin's Influential Work on Dark Matter is Highlighted in Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

Vera Rubin Cosmos
Monday, June 09, 2014 


Cosmos, an American science documentary series, first aired in 1980 on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) with astronomer Carl Sagan hosting Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. It was considered a significant step forward in bringing science-themed programing directly to the average person's living room in order to invigorate and educate the human condition in the vastness of the cosmos. After Sagan passed away in 1996, his widow and co-Cosmos-creator, Ann Druyan, and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, teamed up with animator Seth MacFarlane in 2009 to create an updated version of the series, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

An artist's rendering of Vera Rubin as appeared in the season finale of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, "Unafraid of the Dark." (Credit: Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, 2014)

After 12 riveting episodes that dissected the vast world of space exploration in its 2014 series revival, Tyson ended the season with an episode entitled "Unafraid of the Dark." In it, he contrasts the destruction of the Library of Alexandria and the lost of humanity's knowledge at that point, to the strive for humanity to continute to discover new facts about the universe and the need to not close off further discovery. 

Tyson highlights this strive for discovery in various scientific achievements throughout history, including DTM staff member emeritus Vera Rubin's acclaimed work with Kent Ford on dark matter. After Fritz Zwicky postulated the existence of an unknown mass in observable galaxies, or dark matter, in the universe in 1933, Rubin was able to provide proof of his theory in the 1970s by observing the rotation of stars at the edge of these observable galaxies and calculating that they did not follow the expected rotational behavior without considering the existence of Zwicky's dark matter.