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Carter, Merri Sue 1964-

CARTER, Merri Sue 1964-

PERSONAL: Born November 16, 1964, in Columbus, OH; daughter of William E. (a research geodesist) and Marilyn (a contract officer; maiden name, Johnson) Carter; married James H. Clark III (an engineer), April 26, 1996; children: Wyatt Evan Clark, Holly Mae Clark. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: University of Maryland, B.S., 1986; University of Maryland University College, M.S., 1999. Hobbies and other interests: Playing with her children, reading, needlework.

ADDRESSES: Home—4009 Stonewall Ave., Fairfax, VA 22032. Office—U.S. Naval Observatory, 3450 Massachusetts Ave., Washington, DC 20392. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Astronomer. U.S. Naval Observatory, Washington, DC, astronomer, 1996—. Director of World Data Center A for the Rotation of the Earth.

MEMBER: American Geophysical Union.


(With father, Bill Carter) Latitude: How American >Astronomers Solved the Mystery of Variation, Naval Institute Press (Annapolis, MD), 2002.

Author of scientific papers; contributor to American National Biography.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Research on the polar motion and variations in Earth rotation; research on the history of contributions made to the U.S. Naval Observatory by women.

SIDELIGHTS: Astronomer Merri Sue Carter wrote Latitude: How American Astronomers Solved the Mystery of Variation with her research geodesist father, Bill Carter. It is a history of the breakthrough discovery that established the United States as a player in the global scientific community.

The European community was stunned when, in 1891, Boston actuary Seth Carlo Chandler, Jr. developed a model—the "Chandler Wobble"—that explained oscillations in latitude, a problem that European scientists had attempted for decades to solve. Chandler had been able to develop his observational skills based on his early training, unimpeded by theories of celestial mechanics, of which he knew little. The United States had fallen behind in the field of science since the founding of the independent nation, but another American stepped forward to complete the model. Simon Newcomb confirmed Chandler's discovery, reconciled it with the current theory, and made it understandable.

This was a defining moment in America's advancement toward space-age technology, including global positioning satellite (GPS) systems, and it was all because of the perseverance of an untrained scientist and his inexpensive instrument. Chandler's granddaughter provided his papers and correspondence, allowing the authors to personalize the story of this scientific discovery, one which is written in a manner that is clear to the reader with an interest in science. Booklist contributer Bryce Christensen wrote that "readers who thrill to the unlikely triumphs of amateurs will greatly enjoy the compelling story of Seth Carlo Chandler, Jr." A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented on the "windows of opportunity for the nonspecialist to become acquainted with physical properties of Earth, including the revolution of Earth's pole, fluidity, elasticity, centrifugal force, and periodicity." The reviewer also noted that for those who understand it, the science explains why personal GPS units may occasionally need to be recalibrated.

Carter expanded more on how the idea for the book came to be, telling CA: "A quarter of a century ago, Bill Carter was shocked to learn that many of his colleagues used the term 'Chandler Wobble' in their everyday work, but had no idea who Chandler was or how he had discovered the wobble. Over the next decade, Bill authored papers for scientific journals and presented talks at scientific conferences to inform his colleagues about the remarkable work of Seth Carlo Chandler, Jr."

When Carter began her career at the U.S. Naval Obervatory (USNO), she developed an interest in the early history of the USNO, especially the contributions women had made, and began documenting these women's work in a series of talks and papers. Her research on earth rotation and the history of the USNO naturally led her to an interest in the internationally acclaimed work of Simon Newcomb, who had spent his entire career as a Navy Professor of Mathematics at the USNO and the Nautical Almanac Office. In 1994 Bill and Merri Sue were invited by the National Academy of Sciences to correct nearly a century of neglect by writing Chandler's biographical memoirs. "This work grew from a short article to a longer, but restricted, work," added Carter. "We wanted to expand on that and tell a more complete story in a way that the general audience would enjoy."



Booklist, September 1, 2002, Bryce Christensen, review of Latitude: How American Astronomers Solved the Mystery of Variation, p. 32.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2002, review of Latitude, p. 1276.

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