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Carolyn Shoemaker in 1988 Image Credit: UGSG Astrogeology

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Carolyn’s Comets by Kelsey McDonough

Carolyn Jean Shoemaker, born Carolyn Spellman in 1929, in Gallup, New Mexico is considered to be one of the most influential women in Astronomy today. Shoemaker did not, however, start out as an astronomer; in fact, she had no interest in the science. Carolyn originally received a degree in History and Political science from Chico State College, and then went on to become a junior high school teacher. During her time as a teacher, she met and married Eugene Shoemaker. It was during her marriage that she realized that she had no interest in teaching.  In 1977 Carolyn began working as a field assistant for her husband, an up and coming astronomer. This sparked an interest for Carolyn, and in 1980, at the age of 51, she began studying alongside her husband. It was during this time that Carolyn, her husband, and a man named David levy discovered a comet orbiting closely around Saturn. The comet, later named Shoemaker-Levy 9, was discovered by a photograph, taken on the night of March 24th, 1993. After much research conducted by Carolyn and her husband, it was found that the comet had been torn in to pieces after a very close encounter with the surface of Jupiter sometime in 1992, a very rare occurrence.

After this discovery Carolyn’s husband was killed in a car accident during field work, but she continued to study comets and asteroids on her own. Carolyn studied photographic plates and films using a stereoscope, to find asteroids and comets.  She went on to discover about 800 asteroids and 32 comets, thus holding the record for the most comet discoveries. In 1995 Carolyn shoemaker was named Scientist of the year. Shoemaker continues her extensive studies today.

Astrogeology Science Center (internet). c2002 US Department of Interior.[Cited 2013 Mar 20]. Available from astrogeology.usgs.gov

Comet Shoemaker-Levy Collision with Jupiter (Internet). NASA [Cited 2013 Mar 20]. Available from 2.jpl.nasa.gov