Review of The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe

The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe
by Sandra Nickel; illus. by Aimée Sicuro
Primary, Intermediate    Abrams    48 pp.    g
3/21    978-1-4197-3626-1    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-64700-321-0    $15.54

Like many astronomers (think Edwin Hubble, for example), Vera Rubin (1928–2016) showed a youthful passion for this branch of science. But, unlike them, she had a huge barrier that stalled her professional advancement, that of gender bias. Nickel makes Rubin’s situation clear through telling episodes (there was no restroom for women at Palomar Observatory, for example) and multiple astronomical similes (Rubin “felt like a faraway star on the edge of their universe”). Despite the many barriers, Rubin persevered and became the astronomer responsible for documenting dark matter — a mass invisible without a spectrometer and only discernible by studying its effect on stars within galaxies. Nickel’s descriptions of dark matter — which accounts for about eighty percent, and therefore most, of the universe — and Rubin’s process of calculating it are quite straightforward and accessible. Whether representing Rubin’s thoughts or a winter snowstorm, striking watercolors repeat concentric circles and curves, suggesting images of swirling galaxies, the very subject that prompts Rubin’s work. Sicuro solves the problem of depicting dark matter by gloriously representing it as if seen through a spectrometer, like “glitter caught in an invisible halo.” Appended with an author’s note, documentation of direct quotes, a timeline of Rubin’s life, and a bibliography.

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Betty Carter
Betty Carter, an independent consultant, is professor emerita of children’s and young adult literature at Texas Woman’s University.

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