Gene Shoemaker The late Gene Shoemaker; photo courtesy the American Geophysical Union.

Gene Shoemaker, 1928-1997

The world has lost one of its most renowned scientists with the death of Eugene Shoemaker at age 69. On the afternoon of July 18th, Gene and his wife, Carolyn, were involved in a car accident in central Australia. He was fatally injured; Carolyn suffered broken ribs but is expected to recover. The pair had arrived in Australia just six days earlier to study some of the continent's numerous impact craters -- an annual trek Down Under that they'd made a habit in recent years.

Best known for his pioneering work in elucidating the mechanics of impacts and in the discovery of Earth-crossing bodies, Gene gained worldwide fame in March 1993 for his discovery, with Carolyn and colleague David Levy, of a comet that would strike Jupiter 16 months later. Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was just one of the finds that made this husband-wife team the leading comet discoverers of this century. They are also credited with discovering more than 800 asteroids. But the one research interest he never tired of was Meteor Crater, the kilometer-wide pit east of Flagstaff, Arizona.

While still in his teens, Gene realized that someday astronauts would walk on the Moon, and from that point forward his whole professional life would be directed toward becoming one of them. But a medical condition prevented him from ever being selected for the Apollo program. "Not going to the Moon and banging on it with my own hammer has been the biggest disappointment in life," he said last year. "But then, I probably wouldn't have gone to Palomar Observatory to take some 25,000 films of the night sky with Carolyn -- she scanned them all -- and we wouldn't have had the thrills of finding those funny things that go bump in the night."

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