I wrote my own recollection of Vera Rubin recently. Her long time home institution, the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) of the Carnegie Institution of Washington recently held a lunch in her honor. Unfortunately my travel schedule precluded me from attending. However, they have put together a wonderful website that I recommend to everyone. The depth and variety of the materials published there – testimonials, photos, her list of published papers – is outstanding.

Of historical interest are a series of papers written in the mid-60s in collaboration with Margaret Burbidge. These show some early rotation curves. Many peter out around the turn-over of the rotation curve. With the benefit of hindsight, one can see what the data will do – extend more or less flat from the last measured points.

Here is an example from Burbidge et al. (1964). In this case, NGC 3521, they got a bit further than the turnover. You may judge for yourself how convincing the detection of flat rotation is.


As it happens, NGC 3521 is a near kinematic twin to the Milky Way. Here is the modern rotation curve from THINGS compared with an estimate of the Milky Way rotation curve.


Hopefully it is obvious why it helps to have extended data (usually from 21 cm data, as in the example from THINGS).

This reminds me of something Vera frequently said. Early Days. In many ways, we are far down the path of dark matter. But we still have no idea what it is, or even whether what we call dark matter now is merely a proxy for some more general concept.

Vera always appreciated this. In many ways, these are still Early Days.