"Space—Where Now, and Why?" Shoemaker, Carolyn (1998)

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"Space—Where Now, and Why?"
Carolyn Shoemaker (1998)

URL: http://www.sciencemag.org/feature/data/150essay.shl (Scroll to 1998 articles' list, find the author and title, then click the full text link)

SITE SUMMARY: Shoemaker, an astronomer and planetary scientist now on the staffs of the Lowell Observatory and U.S. Geological Survey, discovered the comet Shoemaker Levy (in 1993), is a recipient of the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal (1996), and is the most prolific comet discoverer alive. In this essay, first published in Science, November 27, 1998, and now part of the Essays on Science and Society page of the magazine's Web site, she comments on her scientific interests, the sciences with which she works, and how they are interesting in themselves and significant for the Earth now, in the past, and in the future. (Also accessible with a search by author name, essay title, and date [e.g., November 1, 1998 through November 31, 1998], in the search boxes at http://www.sciencemag.org/search.dtl.)


  1. Planetary science holds Shoemaker's interest and she has "endeavored to understand" astronomy and geology. Read paragraph one. Identify, according to her, how her main scientific interest is connected to the two other sciences she notes, then give an example. What did she say about history (the major subject of her education), and how did she connect history with the sciences with which she works? Note the poetic phrase or science fiction simile she used, give a reason why she said this, and give an example to illustrate it. (For help and more information, read and quote from the Hubble Space Telescope Page at the Space Telescope Science Institute Web site and the Web site with "Hubble Identifies Primeval Galaxies, Uncovers New Clues to the Universe's Evolution"—Press Release. [Their urls are cited in the Related Internet Sites section below.]) Compare the ways that Shoemaker and the Web sites use the phrase or simile.
  2. See the last part of paragraph two. What are three unusual things about the comet that Shoemaker discovered? Suggest what she meant when she said Comet Shoemaker Levy was "everyone's comet," and identify three things she pointed out. Describe her comparison of the Comet Shoemaker Levy event with the Apollo moon exploration program. What did she say we are occasionally lucky to have? Imagine how to apply your answers to the first questions just above to another scientific occurrence, then do it.
  3. Read the first two sentences of paragraph two, then paragraphs seven, eight, and the last part of nine. On what has Shoemaker concentrated her work, why, and what does this mean to her? Why does she see as important in her work astronomical phenomena close to Earth? With "the science of impact" what effect happens (which may be called a crescendoing or a type of domino effect), and what is the awareness that "the science of impact" carries? (Tip One: For help with scientific words [e.g., accretion], go to the Information Please Dictionary Web site. Its url is in cited in this book's Appendix F. Tip Two: For help with the concepts domino effect and crescendoing, in the context of the article, also search at the Information Please Dictionary Web site.)
  4. Keep in mind Question/Activity no. 3 above and the paragraphs suggested there. Although comet and asteroid impacts are ongoing natural processes, what did Shoemaker believe people must do, and how would images from the Hubble Space Telescope and Earth based telescopes emphasize this fact, according to her?
  5. Keeping Question/Activity no. 3 and Question/Activity no. 4 above in mind, describe Shoemaker's analogy that involves a person and a car. Note how this analogy emphasizes the importance of Shoemaker's work and her point of view. Think of and describe another analogy example in "everyday life" that connects something astronomical with people on the Earth. (Find a definition of analogy at the Information Please Dictionary Web site, as indicated in Tip One of Question/Activity no. 3 above.)
  6. See paragraph three. Why did some early humans become interested in more than physical survival? Identify five things that these early humans did that were more than surviving, then identify four more things that were more than surviving that people in cities in early times did. What did early humans imagine, which sciences began to develop then, and why did these sciences develop slowly? What are some things early humans thought and wondered that modern people still think about and wonder?
  7. Read paragraphs four and five. Over time which two science-related things happened (one especially in the twentieth century) that, Shoemaker believes, caused people to see Earth in a new way and unlocked the door to our future? What is this new view of Earth? Which two things have these two sciences joined together, allowed human beings and enabled scientists to do, and in which ways? How was Shoemaker's work with Comet Shoemaker Levy connected to what is happening because of that joining? Identify which different branches of sciences have, according to Shoemaker, become integrated, and now complement Astronomy, then explain how, and give examples.
  8. Read paragraph six. What have people become aware of in today's world, and why? However, why does space exploration seem frivolous and unnecessary? Identify three different ways of exploring space. What are people more concerned with? Identify and quote from her comments on and examples of what "holds many advantages," then give details, adding additional information found at the Web sites Benefits from Space Science and NASA Spinoffs—Bringing Space Down to Earth (whose urls are cited in the Related Internet Sites section below). See also the last part of paragraph nine. What else did Shoemaker think people should be aware of with reference to space exploration? Tell if you agree or disagree with space exploration, then explain why. Include in your answer if your viewpoint is because of or despite what Shoemaker said, or if what she says supports your viewpoint.
  9. Read paragraph nine. Identify four natural processes on Earth; one in the biological sciences, and one in the earth sciences, that people think should be changed; then one in the biological sciences, and one in the earth sciences that people do not consider changing; according to Shoemaker. State why or why not each natural process you chose should be prevented, or its effects ameliorated, or nothing done about it. (Note: Find a definition for ameliorated at the Information Please Dictionary Web site, as indicated in Tip One of Question/Activity no. 3 above.)
  10. Read paragraph ten. Why did Shoemaker say science and society are intricately entwined? What should people remember about science even if some people think it is too difficult, technical, or abstruse to apply to most people? What is pure science, and what is it "part and parcel of"? What is science likely to do? Based on your answers to the questions just above, and being sure to include them in the explanation of your choice, give an example, from the world around you, of a connection between science and society.


Benefits from Space Science


This site has data that helps to answer "What has the Space Program done for me lately?"

NASA Spinoffs—Bringing Space Down to Earth


This site covers various science subjects, plus, via the links page, NASA Spinoffs and Tech Briefs links.

"Hubble Identifies Primeval Galaxies, Uncovers New Clues to the Universe's Evolution"


A 1994 Press Release.

Hubble Space Telescope Page at the Space Telescope Science Institute Web Site




See especially links to What's New, Papers/Research on Near Earth Asteroids and Impact Hazards, Impact Prevention and Education, Asteroid Missions, and more features coming.

Craters—Links Page


Links go to sites with data on meteors, meteorites and impacts; asteroid and comet impact hazards (e.g., probability of collisions with the Earth, and probability and results of various types of impacts and what we should be doing about them); ancient impacts; asteroid impact and dinosaur extinction theory; terrestrial impact craters; identification of impact sites; and help for teachers. See also the link to data on Comet Shoemaker Levy.

Asteroid Comet Impact Hazards—NASA Ames Research Center


Click links to News in Brief, News Archives, Government Studies, NASA Programs, Introduction and FAQs, Related Information, and more.

Ten FAQs about Near Earth Objects


Also has link to more information at an Asteroid and Comet Impact Hazards Web site.

NEAR Earth Asteroid Rendezvous Mission—NEAR Shoemaker


This site includes data on the probe that was named after the astronomer and planetary scientist Eugene Shoemaker (Carolyn Shoemaker's coworker and husband). This probe landed on and explored the asteroid Eros on February 12, 2001. See the links to data on this probe, including to The Descent to Eros Information, Data From Eros, a Science Updates Archive, and the NASA Science News Archive (at http://near.jhuapl.edu/news/index.html) which features menus with links to items in a News Archive, a Science Updates Archive, and APL Press Releases Archive, plus links to NEAR Weekly Status Reports, and APL Technical Digest articles.

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"Space—Where Now, and Why?" Shoemaker, Carolyn (1998)

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"Space—Where Now, and Why?" Shoemaker, Carolyn (1998)