Shoemaker Eugene et Carolyn


Eugene Shoemaker studied geology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and then joined the United States Geological Survey, with which he remained associated at least in part for the rest of his life. He was interested in asteroid impacts on the Earth and the Moon, an area where he became a specialist. He coached the astronauts for their geological research on the Moon. In 1969, he was appointed professor of geology at Caltech, dividing his time between Pasadena, California, and the Lowell observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.

He married Carolyn Spellman in 1951, who graduated with degrees in history and political science and who first worked as a teacher before devoting herself to their three children. At the age of 51, she became her husband’s assistant in his research program on mapping and analysis of impact craters, before specializing in the search for geo-cruiser asteroids that could be a potential threat to the Earth. She conducted observations at Mount Palomar and, in 1982, with her husband launched the Palomar Planet-Crossing Asteroid Survey (PCAS), using the 46-centimeter-diameter Palomar Schmidt telescope for seven nights per month. In 1989 she became a professor of astronomy at Northern Arizona University, working with David H. Levy. In her tracking of geo-cruiser asteroids (she has more than 900 asteroids to her credit), she fed the hope of discovering a comet.

Eventually, in 11 years of research, she and her husband discovered 32 comets, in particular comet D/1993 F2 Shoemaker-Levy 9, which crashed on Jupiter in 1994. This earned her the title of greatest discoverer of comets, a record beaten later by Robert McNaught. She received the NASA Medal for outstanding scientific achievement in 1996, a year before Eugene Shoemaker’s death in a car accident in Australia.