Vatican Observatory Colleagues Remember Dr. Vera Rubin

Dr. Vera Rubin died on Christmas Day in Princeton. She was a longtime staff astronomer at the Carnegie Institution, married to a mathematician and chemist and mother of four children all doctoral level scientists. Fr. Chris Corbally writes, “what a remarkable and delightful person Vera was, especially for us at the Vatican Observatory! I came to know her and her husband Bob during the first Vatican Observatory Summer School on 1986. The VOSS was the brainchild of Fr. Martin McCarthy, a staff member of the observatory from 1958 to 1999, and it was initiated with the help of the then director, Fr. George Coyne. Both Martin and George knew Vera well from Georgetown University days. They knew of her passion for science, her doggedness in pursuing the observations to verify the existence of dark matter and her determination to provide opportunities for women in science.” Dr. Rubin was an examiner on Fr. George Coyne’s Ph.D. dissertation oral exam at the Georgetown College Observatory. Fr. Coyne agrees with Fr. Corbally when he refers to Vera’s “passion for science.” He says, “True, indeed, but her passion showed itself primarily in her passion for people: students, colleagues, friends, and, above all, family. Some years after the first summer school, to which Chris has referred, we hosted Vera and her husband Bob for several weeks of quiet research at the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo. Since several of the Observatory telescopes are located in the adjoining papal gardens, I, as director, had access to the gardens and welcomed Vera and Bob to take walks there, advising them to always wear their identity badges. One day I received a report from the garden authorities that a young couple had been seen holding hands while strolling in the gardens and that they had been identified as guests of the Observatory. Holding hands in the papal gardens! I dutifully responded that I would check into the matter. Vera and Bob assured me that they were wearing their badges. I asked no more. I estimate that this “young couple” were about 35 years married at that time and had seen four children through graduate studies in the sciences, including their daughter, Judy, an astronomer. Amazing what passion and holding hands will do!”

Read more about Dr. Rubin on The Catholic Astronomer blog.


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