Eugene Shoemaker, Professor of Geology and Planetary Science, passed away on July 18, 1997. He was 69.
Best known to the general public as the co-discoverer of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which collided with Jupiter in 1994, he and his wife, Carolyn, together or separately, were credited with the discovery of 32 comets and 1,125 asteroids.
He received his doctorate from Princeton in 1960, and for most of his career, was employed as a planetary scientist by the U.S. Geological Survey, founding the USGS's Branch of Astrogeology and acting as its director from 1961 to 1966; he retired in 1993. He was also a professor at Caltech from 1969 to 1985. A strong supporter of the hypothesis that the impact of a comet or asteroid 65 million years ago was responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs, he was convinced that comets and asteroids pose a genuine threat to life on Earth; as early as 1973, he had initiated the Palomar Planet Crossing Asteroid Survey, and in 1994 he was asked by NASA to chair a working group on surveying near-Earth objects. He was considered a key figure in the study of impacts on Earth and throughout the solar system, and his work on specifically terrestrial geology focused on both impact craters caused by celestial objects and craters created by nuclear explosions. Heavily involved with NASA, Shoemaker participated in the Ranger space missions and was the principal investigator for the television experiment on the Surveyor lunar landers from 1963 to 1968, as well as for the Apollo research team that investigated the composition of moon rocks. After he retired from the USGS, he was associated with the Lowell Observatory at Flagstaff and took part in the Clementine mission that imaged the moon; he was also the science team leader for the Clementine 2 mission, which will examine two or more near-Earth objects close up. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences.