As a woman, astrophysicist Vera Rubin had to fight just to get access to a telescope. What she saw when she did further rattled conventions: galaxies that were rotating more quickly than predicted by the laws of physics.

This movement, she concluded, could be explained if the universe was filled with a type of mass that no one had ever seen, mysterious stuff that came to be known as dark matter.

Her once-startling theory is now an accepted part of the still-evolving story of the universe. Finding firm evidence of dark matter stands as the seminal achievement of a scientist known for breaking barriers and helping others to build on such work.

Rubin died Sunday at 88 in the Princeton, N.J., area after a long period of declining health, according to family and colleagues. She worked for decades at the Carnegie Institution for Science, headquartered in Washington, D.C.

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