Ashley Yeager—Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond: The Life of Astronomer Vera Rubin

Bright Galaxies

Bright Galaxies

BRIGHT GALAXIES, DARK MATTER, AND BEYOND:
THE LIFE OF ASTRONOMER VERA RUBIN

Ashley Yeager
MIT Press, August 17, 2021, $24.95
ISBN 10: 0262046121, ISBN 13: 9780262046121
Available in Kindle or Nook

Yeager reports:

We now know that the universe is mostly dark, made up of particles and forces that are undetectable even by our most powerful telescopes. The discovery of the possible existence of dark matter signaled a Copernican-like revolution in astronomy: not only are we not the center of the universe, neither is the stuff of which we’re made.

Astronomer Vera Rubin (1928–2016) played a pivotal role in this discovery. By showing that some astronomical objects seem to defy gravity’s grip, Rubin helped convince the scientific community of the possibility of dark matter. In Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond, I describe Rubin’s life and work, recounting her persistence despite early dismissals of her work and widespread sexism in science.

Ashley Yeager

Ashley Yeager

The seed of this book was planted in 2007 at the National Air and Space Museum, where I was working as an intern. After I read about Rubin, I was intrigued and peppered my supervisor with questions. He invited me to accompany him to interview Rubin and her husband. That interview and a trip with Rubin to the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, Arizona, sprouted into a thesis project for my graduate degree in science writing at MIT.

A decade later, MIT Press asked if I wanted to expand the thesis into a biography. A small advance funded my research. Writing at night and on weekends for about a year, I was able to pull a draft together.

Had I to do it over again, I would have carved out more dedicated time for the research and writing during the week. I didn’t do it for this book because I felt taking that time would interfere with my job, but I didn’t ask about time off. If I write another book, I will talk with my supervisor about this possibility.

As for my advice to aspiring authors, first, keep your notes or recordings from interviews, at least digitally. You never know when they may come in handy, even many years later. Second, if you have a topic you are passionate about, keeping asking questions. Stay curious. And never be afraid to ask for help.

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Aug. 18, 2021

Advance Copy

The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

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