ITHACA, N.Y. -- Carolyn S. Shoemaker, the world's most successful living "comet hunter," will speak at Cornell University Sunday, April 21, at 1 p.m. in the David L. Call Alumni Auditorium, Kennedy Hall. The talk is free and is open to the public.
The subject of the talk, which is aimed at science educators, will be asteroid and comet collisions within the solar system. The talk is sponsored by NASA's Comet Nucleus Tour (Contour) and the central and southern sections of the Science Teachers Association of New York State. Contour, which is scheduled for launch July 1, is managed by the Applied Physics Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins University, with Cornell's Department of Astronomy leading the science team.
Shoemaker, who has discovered more than 300 asteroids and 32 comets, is probably best known for her 1993 co-discovery of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet, which in 1994 collided with Jupiter. The collision gave planetary scientists the most spectacular and most widely studied solar system event in history, as each of the comet's 23 individual fragments collided with the giant planet over a number of days.
Today, astronomers have identified a large population of near-Earth asteroids and comets and are aware of more than 160 impact structures, such as craters, on Earth where these objects have crashed into our planet. A new period of solar system exploration is beginning, Shoemaker says, thanks to new methods of searching the skies and studying objects.
Shoemaker, who estimates she puts in 100 search hours for each comet she finds, studied history and political science, taught high school and raised three children before she launched her career as a comet hunter at age 51. She continues to search for asteroids and comets and to study ancient impact structures at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz.
For her comet discoveries, she has won the Rittenhouse Medal of the Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, and in 1990 she was awarded an honorary doctorate of science by Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. She is the widow of the late astronomer Eugene Shoemaker, who as chief scientist at the United States Geological Survey Center of Astrogeology played a leading role in organizing geological activities for the lunar landings of the late 1960s and early 1970s.