11 June 2019

LSST May Be Renamed the Vera Rubin Survey Telescope

Richard Fienberg

Richard Fienberg Running Hare Observatory

This post is adapted from a press release issued by the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology:

On 11 July 2019 Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR) introduced H.R. 3196, the "Vera Rubin Survey Telescope Designation Act." H.R. 3196 would designate the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), a National Science Foundation− and Department of Energy−funded telescope that is currently under construction on a mountaintop site in northern Chile, as the "Vera Rubin Survey Telescope."

Vera Rubin and the LSST
Left: Vera Rubin in 1974, courtesy Carnegie Institution of Science. Right: The enclosure for
the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in March 2019, courtesy the LSST Project, NSF, and AURA.

Dr. Vera Rubin, a renowned astronomer and advocate for women in science, became the first woman to officially be granted permission to observe at the Palomar Observatory in 1965, which housed the world's preeminent telescope of its time. She uncovered some of the first evidence of dark matter in 1970. This groundbreaking work changed the conventional view of the universe from one dominated by light to one dominated by dark matter.

While LSST data can be used by scientists to conduct a wide range of studies, the project's primary science goals are to (1) study the nature of dark matter and dark energy, (2) catalogue asteroids and other objects in the solar system, (3) study how objects in the sky vary over time, and (4) study the structure and formation of the Milky Way galaxy.

"Motivated by her own battle to garner respect as a woman in a male-dominated field, Dr. Rubin worked tirelessly to encourage girls interested in astronomy to pursue their dreams," said Chairwoman Johnson. "Dr. Rubin has a well-deserved place in history. As a tribute to the woman whose pioneering work made this pursuit possible, this bill would ensure that the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope bears her name."

"Dr. Vera Rubin exemplifies the remarkable contributions women have long made to science," said Rep. González-Colón. "She persevered despite gender-based discrimination and challenges, and is recognized as a groundbreaking scientist in the field of astronomy. I am proud to be a cosponsor of this bill, alongside Chairwoman Johnson. As a representative for many young girls and women who are either pursuing or interested in pursuing a career in STEM, I trust Dr. Rubin's legacy will continue to inspire and encourage academic and professional interest of women in STEM."

"We are pleased that the US House of Representatives is considering legislation to rename the LSST the Vera Rubin Survey Telescope," said Allan Rubin, David Rubin, and Karl Rubin. "We believe that this is a great way to honor our mother's achievements in astronomy and her work for equal rights for women in science."

On behalf of the American Astronomical Society, AAS President Megan Donahue (Michigan State University) has provided a letter of support for H.R. 3196. A PDF of the letter is available from the House Science Committee website and included below under RESOURCES for the convenience of AAS members.