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Remembering Carolyn Shoemaker

Presentation #349.02 in the session HAD IV — iPoster Session.

Published onJun 29, 2022
Remembering Carolyn Shoemaker

Carolyn Shoemaker was a late comer to astronomy, not entering the field until 1980 when she was 51 years old. Like the famous comet-hunting Caroline of two centuries prior—Caroline Herschel—Shoemaker went into astronomy to support a family member: Herschel with her planet-discovering brother William and Shoemaker with her astrogeology husband Gene. For Carolyn, this came about because she had finished raising the Shoemaker’s three children and had free time on her hands, so she asked Gene for suggestions on how to fill it. He was then leading a project using Palomar Observatory’s 18-inch Schmidt telescope to search for potentially hazardous asteroids and comets. This work involved photographing segments of the sky and then scanning the resulting films with a stereomicroscope for suspects. Gene suggested Carolyn join the project and she took to it immediately. By the time she finished her career in astronomy, she discovered or co-discovered 32 comets, 377 numbered asteroids, and many more unnumbered ones. Comet-Shoemaker-Levy 9 was her most famous discovery, made in 1993 while teamed with Gene and David Levy. The year after its discovery. this icy body dramatically collided with Jupiter in an event observed by astronomers around the world. This was the first time in recorded history that humans observed two solar system bodies colliding, and it brought the discoverers international recognition. Several years later, Carolyn was severely injured in an automobile accident that saw Gene die. After recovering, Carolyn continued her research for several years and also frequently spoke at star parties and other astronomy events around the world. In August 2021, at the age of 92, this grande dame of astronomy passed away.

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