Carolyn S. Shoemaker

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Carolyn S. Shoemaker
Carolyn Shoemaker.jpg
Born (1929-06-24) June 24, 1929 (age 87)
Gallup, New Mexico, United States
Citizenship American
Nationality American
Fields Astronomy
Institutions California Institute of Technology,
Pasadena, California
Palomar Observatory, San Diego, California
Known for co-discoverer of Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9
Notable awards James Craig Watson Medal (1998)
National Aeronautics and Space Administration,
Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal
Rittenhouse Medal (1988)
Scientist of the Year Award (1995)
Spouse Eugene Shoemaker 1951–1997 (his death)

Carolyn Jean Spellmann Shoemaker (born June 24, 1929) is an American astronomer and is a co-discoverer of Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9.[1] She once held the record for most comets discovered by an individual.[2]

Early and personal life[edit]

Carolyn Jean Spellmann was born in Gallup, New Mexico, United States.[2] Her family moved to Chico, California, where she and her brother Richard grew up with their parents, Leonard Spellmann and Hazel Arthur. Spellmann (before marriage) received bachelor's and master's degrees in history, political science, and English literature from Chico State University[3] and a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering at California Institute of Technology.[4] On August 18, 1951, she married Gene Shoemaker, a planetary scientist.[2][5] She gave birth to three children: Christy, Linda, and Patrick Shoemaker. The family lived in Grand Junction, Colorado, Menlo Park, California, and Pasadena, California, before finally settling down in Flagstaff, Arizona, where she worked in collaboration with her husband at the Lowell Observatory.[5]


The first job Shoemaker held was at a local school teaching the seventh grade.[4] After not feeling satisfied with her work there, she quit to marry and raise a family. At the age of 51, once her children had grown up and moved out, Shoemaker started work as a field assistant for her husband Gene Shoemaker, working on his search program mapping and analyzing impact craters.[3] Shoemaker started her astronomical career in 1980, searching for Earth-crossing asteroids and comets at California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, and the Palomar Observatory, San Diego, California.[6] That year, Shoemaker was hired at the United States Geological Survey as a visiting scientist in the astronomy branch, and then in 1989 began work as an astronomy research professor at Northern Arizona University.[3] She concentrated her work on searching for comets and planet-crossing asteroids.[5] Teamed with astronomer David H. Levy, the Shoemakers identified Shoemaker-Levy 9, a fragmented comet orbiting the planet Jupiter on March 24, 1993.[7] After Gene's death in 1997, Shoemaker continued to work at the Lowell Observatory with Levy, and continues to work there today.[8]

In the 1980s and 1990s, Shoemaker used film taken at the wide-field telescope at the Palomar Observatory, combined with a stereoscope, to find objects which moved against the background of fixed stars.[2]

As of 2002, Shoemaker had discovered 32 comets and over 800 asteroids.[2][6]


Shoemaker received an honorary doctorate from the Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona, and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in 1996.[2] She and her husband were awarded the James Craig Watson Medal by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1998.[9] Shoemaker also received the Rittenhouse Medal of the Rittenhouse Astronomical Society[7] in 1988 and the Scientist of the Year Award in 1995.[7]

Asteroids discovered[edit]


  1. ^ Mestel, Rosie (July 9, 1994). "Carolyn Shoemaker and 'Her Comet'". New Scientist. 143 (1933). p. 23. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Carolyn Shoemaker". Astrogeology Science Center. USGS. 
  3. ^ a b c Wayne, Tiffany K. (2011). "Carolyn Shoemaker". Encyclopedia of Women in Today's World, Vol. 4. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.
  4. ^ a b Chapman, Mary G. (May 17, 2002). "Carolyn Shoemaker". USGS Astrogeology Science Center. 
  5. ^ a b c "Shoemaker, Eugene Merle" (2002)
  6. ^ a b "She's Looking Out for Us". Explorer. American Association of Petroleum Geologists. May 2001. 
  7. ^ a b c Lang, Susan S. (April 11, 2002). "Comet hunter Carolyn Shoemaker to speak at Cornell April 21". Cornell Chronicle. 
  8. ^ Shoemaker, Carolyn (November 27, 1998). "Space—Where Now, and Why?". Science. 282 (5394): 1637–1638. Bibcode:1998Sci...282.1637S. doi:10.1126/science.282.5394.1637. 
  9. ^ "James Craig Watson Medal". National Academy of Sciences. 

External links[edit]