Shoemaker by Levy: The Man Who Made an Impact

David Levy, Author Princeton University Press $42.5 (320p) ISBN 978-0-691-00225-5
Eugene Shoemaker (1928-1997) is best known to the general public for his discovery, along with his wife, Carolyn, and author Levy, of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which slammed into the planet Jupiter in 1994. Shoemaker had played an important role in the Ranger and Apollo programs, where he helped to determine the geology of the moon's surface and ascertained that landing craft and astronauts wouldn't sink knee-deep into the thick regolith (surface material) as other scientists had speculated. He also made important discoveries in the new field of paleomagnetism, determining the age of rocks through analysis of their magnetic orientation. But Shoemaker, who was killed in a freak car accident in the Australian Outback, will be best remembered for proving that huge craters like Meteor Crater in Arizona and those on the moon were not caused by volcanic activity, but by the colossal and often deadly impact of asteroids and comets. Shoemaker-Levy 9 provided the final bit of evidence: mysterious strings of craters on our moon and elsewhere are now recognized as having been created by similar comets or asteroids that broke up before impact. Fellow comet hunter Levy, the biographer of astronomers Bart Bok and Clyde Tombaugh, pens an affectionate portrait of his gifted if mercurial friend. Not all of the amusing anecdotes contribute to the total picture, and Levy's prose is occasionally a little stiff, but readers will appreciate, in addition to its welcome memoir of Shoemaker, the book's overview of the development of planetary geology during the last half-century. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
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