Eugene M. Shoemaker

Lowell Observatory

April 28, 1928 - July 18, 1997


Election Year: 1980
Scientific Discipline: Geology
Membership Type: Member

Eugene Shoemaker combined geological and astronomical principles to establish planetary science as its own independent field.  An expert on craters and the interplanetary collisions that caused them, he used the geologic principles of stratigraphy to interpret the histories of the planets in the solar system and demonstrated that extraterrestrial impacts were an important and unavoidable geological process for the development of planets, including Earth.  During his research on the structures and mechanisms of meteorite impacts, Shoemaker became the first scientist to discover the natural occurrence of coesite, a form of silica created from the high pressure and temperature conditions of meteor impact.  Shoemaker, along with his wife, discovered approximately 30 comets and 1,100 asteroids, thereby establishing them both as the world record holders for most documented comets.  The most famous comet he discovered was Shoemaker-Levy 9, which impacted Jupiter in 1994, giving the entire world new insights into the dynamics of comets, planetary impacts, and the planetary science of Jupiter.  Shoemaker led the scientific team of Project Clementine on a mission that captured important photos of the moon’s south pole region (a poorly documented area).  Shoemaker founded the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) Branch of Astrogeology, which has a permanent relationship with NASA.  He also established a major paleomagnetic facility in Flagstaff, Arizona that produced extensive field mapping and petrological discoveries in the southwest through the 1950s and the 1960s.

Shoemaker attended the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and received his B.S. degree in 1947 and his M.S. degree the following year.  He continued his education at Princeton University where he earned his M.A. in 1954 and his Ph.D. in 1960.  In 1948, he became a geologist at USGS, and he worked there until 1993.  He founded the USGS’s Branch of Astrogeology in 1961 and served as its chief from 1961 to 1966 and its chief scientist from 1966 to 1968.  Alongside his research, Shoemaker taught geology at Caltech from 1969 to 1985.  For his groundbreaking discoveries, he received nearly every award possible in the geosciences, such as the Arthur S. Flemming Award in 1966, the NASA Medal for Scientific Achievement in 1967, the Arthur L. Day Medal of the Geological Society of America in 1982, and the prestigious National Medal of Science in 1992.

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