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Eugene Merle Shoemaker (or Gene Shoemaker) (April 28, 1928 – July 18, 1997) was one of the founders of the fields of planetary science.Born in Los Angeles, Californiamarker, he is best known for co-discovering the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with his wife Carolyn Shoemaker and David Levy.

Scientific contributions

Astrogeology and Apollo

For his Ph.D. at Princetonmarker (1960), Shoemaker studied the impact dynamics of Barringer Meteor Cratermarker, located near Winslow, Arizonamarker. To understand the dynamics, Shoemaker inspected craters that remained after underground atomic bomb tests at the Nevada Test Sitemarker at Yucca Flats. He found a ring of ejected material that included shocked quartz (coesite), a form of quartz that has a microscopically unique structure caused by intense pressure.

Shoemaker helped pioneer the field of astrogeology by founding the Astrogeology Research Program of the U.S. Geological Survey in 1961 at Flagstaff, Arizonamarker and he was its first director. He was prominently involved in the Lunar Ranger missions to the Moon, which showed that the Moon was covered with a wide size range of impact craters. Shoemaker was also involved in the training of the American astronauts. He himself was a possible candidate for an Apollo moon flight and was set to be the first geologist to walk on the Moon but was disqualified due to being diagnosed with Addison's disease, a disorder of the adrenal gland. Shoemaker would train astronauts during field trips to Meteor Cratermarker and Sunset Cratermarker near Flagstaff.

Coming to Caltechmarker in 1969, he started a systematic search for Earth orbit-crossing asteroids, which resulted in the discovery of several families of such asteroids, including the Apollo asteroids. Since then, Shoemaker has done more than any other person to advance the idea that sudden geologic changes can arise from asteroid strikes and that asteroid strikes are common over geologic time periods. Previously, astrobleme were thought to be remnants of extinct volcanoes – even on the Moon.

Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9

Shoemaker received the Barringer Medal in 1984 and a National Medal of Science in 1992. In 1993, he co-discovered Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 using the 18" Schmidt camera at Palomar Observatorymarker. This comet was unique in that it provided the first opportunity for scientists to observe the planetary impact of a comet. Shoemaker-Levy 9 collided with Jupiter in 1994. The resulting impact caused a massive "scar" on the face of Jupiter. Most scientists at the time were dubious of whether there would even be any evident markings on the planet.


Shoemaker spent much of his later years searching for and finding several previously unnoticed or undiscovered meteor craters around the world. It was during one such expedition that Shoemaker died in a car accident while on the Tanami Road northwest of Alice Springsmarker, Australia in July 1997. On July 31, 1999, some of his ashes were carried to the Moon by the Lunar Prospector space probe in a capsule designed by Carolyn Porco. To date, he is the only person to have been buried on the Moon.

The brass foil wrapping of Shoemaker's memorial capsule is inscribed with images of Comet Hale-Bopp, the Barringer Cratermarker, and a quotation from Romeo and Juliet reading
"And, when he shall die
Take him and cut him out in little stars
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun."



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