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Sandra Faber

28 December 2016

The astronomer has helped explain the distribution and structure of galaxies and galaxy clusters.

Sandra Faber

Born on 28 December 1944 in Boston, Sandra Faber is an astronomer whose research has revealed how galaxies form and evolve. She earned her bachelor’s degree in physics from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and then conducted a galaxy survey for her doctoral research at Harvard. After a rocky start (she was injured on her first day of observing when a malfunctioning instrument fell off the telescope), her work revealed a relationship between the size and color of elliptical galaxies. In 1972 Faber moved to the University of California, Santa Cruz, and became the first-ever female staff member at the Lick Observatory. There she continued her galaxy research and discovered, with graduate student Robert Jackson, faster-orbiting stars in larger elliptical galaxies; that connection is now known as the Faber–Jackson relation. Faber and her colleagues are largely responsible for the prevailing ideas that galaxies are surrounded by invisible halos of cold dark matter, and that the distribution of galaxies and galaxy clusters reflects density fluctuations introduced during a brief period of cosmic inflation at the dawn of the universe. Over the past few decades Faber has focused on big projects. She helped build instruments for the Keck and Hubble Space telescopes, and she aided engineers in diagnosing Hubble‘s initial vision problems. Faber’s awards include the Bruce Gold Medal and the National Medal of Science.

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