Carolyn Jean Spellmann Shoemaker (1929–2021)

Carolyn Jean Spellmann Shoemaker (June 24, 1929–August 13, 2021) was a well known female astronomer. She was a co-discoverer of the Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 and was credited with identifying 39 comets during her life time a number greater than any other individual at that time.

Shoemaker at work dressed in an orange sweater and short-cropped gray hair, smiling
Caroloyn Shoemaker

Born in Gallup, New Mexico, her family then moved to Chico, California where she and her brother grew up. At Chico State University she earned degrees in history, political science, and English literature. Shoemaker was not interested in Science until she met Gene Shoemaker in 1950 at her brothers wedding; Gene was his bother's best man and former Caltech roommate. She and Gene exchanged letters and then after graduating, she moved to New Jersey to join Gene who was doing a doctoral degree in Geology at Princeton University. They were married on August 18, 1951.

Following her marriage Shoemaker took her first job teaching 7th grade students. Unsatisfied with teaching she quit to raise her family. She and Gene eventually had three children; they settled in Flagstaff, Arizona in the 1960s.

During their marriage Carolyn developed a deep fascination for science from listening to her husband Gene describing and explaining geology. Once her children were grown and on their own, and with the urging of her husband, she began studying astronomy from a student at Lowell Observatory. Concurrently she became her husband's field assistant and together they began mapping and analyzing impact craters.

According to Wikipedia, "Carolyn Shoemaker started her astronomical career in 1980, at age 51, searching for Earth-crossing asteroids and comets at California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, and the Palomar Observatory, San Diego, California. That year, Shoemaker was hired at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) as a visiting scientist in the astronomy branch, and then in 1989 began work as an astronomy research professor at Northern Arizona University. She concentrated her work on searching for comets and planet-crossing asteroids. Teamed with astronomer David H. Levy, the Shoemakers identified Shoemaker-Levy 9, a fragmented comet with an orbit that intersected that of Jupiter, on March 24, 1993."

Honors and awards:

  • Hildian asteroid was named 4446 Carolyn (1985)
  • Rittenhouse Medal of the Rittenhouse Astonomical Society (1988)
  • Scientist of the year (1995)
  • Honorary doctorate degree (1996)—Norther Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ
  • Exceptiional Scientific Acheivement Medal (1996)—U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • James Craig Watson Medal (1998)—U.S. National Academy



Wikipedia, Carolyn Jean Spellmann Shoemaker.