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June 21, 2022

The USGS Astrogeology family has had the utmost privilege of working with and learning from the legendary astronomer Carolyn S. Shoemaker (1929 –2021), and we are not alone in coming together in the myriad, diverse celebrations of her life and legacy. Celebrations of Carolyn's legacy will continue in our hometown of Flagstaff, AZ, perhaps for as long as a new star can be born in the universe.

Carolyn Shoemaker and David Levy in front of Shoemaker Building
Carolyn and David Levy in front of the Shoemaker building in 2011. Photo by B. Archinal. 

Past Celebrations  

Virtual celebration with all who knew Carolyn

On Saturday, Aug 21, 2021, Dr. Justin Hagerty, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, Astrogeology Science Center, held a virtual gathering for all who knew Carolyn. Dr. Kenneth Herkenhoff conducted the gathering. Those in attendance told wide-ranging stories that reflected the dimensions of Carolyn: She was much more than a comet hunter and more than an inspiration to many, she was also a friend. Dr. Ryan Anderson captured the stories told at the gathering here, in an article, which includes large, stunning pictures of the life and legacy of Carolyn.


Celebration with art

On May 21, 2022, scientists and other members of Astrogeology stepped out at the Coconino Center for the Arts, in Flagstaff, AZ, to peruse an exhibit called "NightVisions: Cultural Interpretations of the Night Sky," which showcased spellbinding work of contemporary artists with the exhibition attributed to Carolyn. At the opening, Dr. David Levy, co-discoverer of Shoemaker-Levy 9, spoke about working with Gene and Carolyn, the SL9 discovery, the events during the 1994 July impact week, and more. If you missed the talk, the exhibit is still available through August 27, 2022, and it is freely available to the public to learn more about Carolyn.

 NightVisions Installation View of Shoemaker Dedication, image credit: Coconino Center for the Arts.

Private celebration with friends and family

On May 22, 2022, at Lowell Observatory, close friends and family gathered in a private celebration “to reflect and honor Carolyn’s life and accomplishments.”  In attendance from the USGS Astrogeology Science Center were Ken Herkenhoff and Brent Archinal as were former employees, Mary Chapman, Jeff Plescia, Jody Swann, Lisa Gaddis, Mark Robinson, Larry Soderblom, Baerbel and Ivo Lucchitta, Jen Blue, Eric Eliason, Ray Jordan, and Jim Torson. Even Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt was in attendance.


Future Celebrations


Celebration with objects

Beginning June 24, 2022, at the Coconino Center for the Arts, the "NightVisions: Cultural Interpretations of the Night Sky" exhibit will be expanded to include archival astronomical elements alongside the work of contemporary artists, and will include Carolyn’s collaborations with husband and geologist Eugene Shoemaker (April 28, 1928 – July 18, 1997).  The exhibit will be available to peruse through August 13, 2022. Learn more about the exhibits and upcoming activities here.

Celebration with a plaque

Lowell Observatory will honor Carolyn with a plaque that will be displayed on the Diverse Universe wall of the Astronomy Discovery Center scheduled to open in 2024. “Carolyn is being honored for both the number of asteroids (and comets) she discovered as well as comet Shoemaker-Levy 9,” said Stephen Riggs, Senior Philanthropy Manager at Lowell.

Although the plaque has not been created yet, Lowell has prepared the inscription as follows:  

"Carolyn Shoemaker | It’s Never Too Late

Carolyn Shoemaker earned university degrees in history, political science, and literature. But she was fascinated by the work of her astrogeologist husband, Gene, and at the age of 51 decided to embark on her own career in science. Carolyn discovered hundreds of asteroids and dozens of comets, including Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 that hit Jupiter in 1994.


No matter how we came to know Carolyn, it is great to come together in memory of her.




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