Carolyn Jean Spellmann Shoemaker (1929–2021)

Carolyn Jean Spellmann Shoemaker 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 lifetime, a greater number than any other individual at that time.

Caroloyn Shoemaker

Caroloyn Shoemaker

Born in Gallup, New Mexico, Shoemaker grew up in Chico, California and earned degrees in history, political science, and English literature at Chico State University. Shoemaker was not interested in science until she met Gene Shoemaker, the best man at her brother's wedding in 1950. She and Gene exchanged letters and, 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 had three children and settled in Flagstaff, Arizona, in the 1960s.

During their marriage Carolyn developed a deep fascination for science from listening to her husband Gene explaining geology. Once her children were grown, she began studying astronomy from a student at Lowell Observatory at the urging of her husband, who had pioneered the application of geologic principles to the mapping of planets, and served as the first director of the United States Geological Survey's Astrogeology Research Program. Carolyn 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 in Pasadena, California and the Palomar Observatory in 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 Astronomical Society (1988)
  • Scientist of the year (1995)
  • Honorary doctorate degree (1996)—Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ
  • Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal (1996)—U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • James Craig Watson Medal (1998)—U.S. National Academy


Wikipedia, Carolyn Jean Spellmann Shoemaker.


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