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Elizabeth “Pat” Roemer (1929–2016)

Roemer was a prolific observer. Her observations led to the recovery of numerous “lost” asteroids and comets. She also discovered the asteroids 1930 Lucifer (1964) and 1983 Bok (1975) and was co-discoverer of Themisto, a moon of Jupiter.

Published onMar 11, 2022
Elizabeth “Pat” Roemer (1929–2016)

Elizabeth Roemer, emerita professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona, passed away on Friday, April 8, 2016, in Tucson, Arizona. She was 86.

Elizabeth “Pat” Roemer had a special interest in comets and asteroids, and was noted as the recoverer of lost comets, calculating the return of 79 periodic comets while also computing the orbits of comets and minor planets. Pat specialized in astrometry; her observations led to numerous significant cometary discoveries. She also discovered the asteroids 1930 Lucifer (1964) and 1983 Bok (1975) and was a co-discoverer of Themisto, one of Jupiter's moons.

Elizabeth Roemer was born in Oakland, California, on September 4, 1929, to Richard Q. and Elsie B. Roemer. Raised in Alameda, California, she was a valedictorian of her 1946 high school class, a winner of that year’s national Westinghouse Science Talent Search, and already a serious amateur astronomer. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1950 with a B.A. in astronomy as a Bertha Dolbeer Scholar. Pat’s passion for teaching bloomed during her graduate studies at Berkeley when she taught adult extension classes in Oakland to help finance her tuition. She also worked as an assistant astronomer and lab technician at UC’s Lick Observatory.

After earning her UC Berkeley Ph.D. in 1955, Pat continued there for a time as an assistant astronomer and also conducted research at the University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory. In 1957, she became an astronomer at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. It was there that she gained traction for rediscovering comets by using a high-definition 40-inch atmospheric reflecting telescope to photograph and analyze comet nuclei. By 1965, Pat was acting director and had an asteroid named 1657 Roemera (1961) in her honor.

She was hired by the University of Arizona in Tucson as an associate professor in the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in 1966 and promoted to full professor in 1969. She headed the committee in 1972 that set up UA’s Department of Planetary Sciences. Beginning in 1980, while remaining a UA professor, Pat also served as an astronomer at Tucson’s Steward Observatory. She retired in 1998, but continued her research on comets and asteroids.

Pat was an exemplary member of the astronomy community and served on many astronomical commissions and organizations, including stints as president and vice president of the International Astronomical Union’s Commission 6 and vice president of its Commission 20. She also served as chair of the American Astronomical Society’s Division on Dynamical Astronomy.

As well as her leadership in the field, she received numerous awards for her groundbreaking work; among those were the B.A. Gould Prize of the National Academy of Sciences, the NASA Special Award, and the Donohoe Lectureship of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Her achievements reflected her passion and love for astronomy.

Besides her work, Pat also was passionate about the environment and was a generous supporter of many conservation organizations. She was an intrepid hiker and camper and enjoyed birdwatching. Pat liked to travel and document her adventures via her love of photography. She was an avid stamp collector and has left her collection to the Tucson Postal History Foundation.

Pat Roemer was a brilliant and unique individual who will be greatly missed by all who knew her. She was predeceased by her sister, Alice Howard, and is survived by her niece, Carole Howard, and nephew, Jeffrey Howard.

Adapted and reproduced with permission from the estate of Elizabeth Roemer and Astronomy & Geophysics, Vol. 57, No. 5, October 2016, Page 5.12.

See also Roemer’s AstroGen information.

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