It was a lucky twist of fate when in the early1980s David Levy, a writer and amateur astronomer, joined up with the famous scientist Eugene Shoemaker and his wife, Carolyn, to search for comets from an observation post on Palomar Mountain in Southern California. Their collaboration would lead to the 1993 discovery of the most remarkable comet ever recorded, Shoemaker-Levy 9, with its several nuclei, five tails, and two sheets of debris spread out in its orbit plane. A year later, Levy would be by the Shoemakers' side again when their comet ended its four-billion-year-long journey through the solar system and collided with Jupiter in the most stunning astronomical display of the century. Not only did this collision revolutionize our understanding of the history of the solar system, but it also offered a spectacular confirmation of one scientist's life work. As a close friend and colleague of Shoemaker (who died in 1997 at the age of 69), Levy offers a uniquely insightful account of his life and the way it has shaped our thinking about the universe.
Early in his training as a geologist, Shoemaker suspected that it wasn't volcanic activity but rather collisions with comets and asteroids that created most of the craters on the moon and most other bodies in the solar system. Convincing the scientific community of the plausibility of "impact theory," and revealing its power for penetrating mysteries such as the extinction of the dinosaurs and the timing of the Earth's eventual demise, became Shoemaker's mission. Through conversations with Shoemaker and his family, Levy reconstructs the journey that began with a young geologist's serious desire to go to the moon in the late1940s. Sent by the government to find a way to harvest plutonium, Shoemaker instead found evidence in desert craters for what became his impact theory. While he never became an astronaut, he did become the first geologist hired by NASA and subsequently set the research agenda for the first manned lunar landing.
After a series of victories and setbacks for Shoemaker, the collision of Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter provided the most convincing proof to date of the role of impacts in our solar system. Levy's explanation of the scientific reasoning that guided Shoemaker in his career up to this dramatic point--as well as his personal portrait of a man who found white-water rafting to be an easy way to relax--sets these fascinating events in a human scale. This biography shows what Shoemaker's legacy will be for our understanding of the story of the Earth well into the twenty-first century.
"A warm profile of an unpretentious, significant scientist... Levy's account notes the ... comet/asteroid hunting conducted by Shoemaker and his wife, Carolyn, and he accents that with personal anecdotes from his own friendship and work with the couple."--Booklist "Fellow comet hunter Levy ... pens an affectionate portrait of his gifted if mercurial friend... 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."--Publishers Weekly "Levy's book should appeal to a wide range of readers, including not only scientists but also those seeking the personalities behind astronomy in the late 20th century."--Jay M. Pasachoff, Astronomy "David Levy's book has three main themes--biography, geology, and astronomy--neatly intertwined in a triple helix ... Thanks to one of the most remarkable events in the entire history of astronomy, the names Shoemaker and Levy are now inextricably linked."--Arthur C. Clarke, Times Higher Education Supplement "Levy writes well, and his pacey style keeps his personal story bubbling along superbly. The book is everything a 'good read' should be."--David W. Hughes, Nature "David Levy ... tells the story of Shoemaker's scientific odyssey with wit and panache."--Marcus Chown, New Scientist "This book is a wonderful read; it is very hard to put down once you start to flick through the pages, and it often brings a smile to your face... The author covers so much of Shoemaker's life that the reader is taken through the most exciting periods in the history of planetary science, so not only do you get a biography of an inspirational man, but you get an inside view of the development of astrogeology from its creation to the present day... Well written, fun, and a marvellous story of a man who made an impact on a subject that no other person is ever likely to be able to repeat."--Sarah Dunkin, The Observatory "This is a book for anyone interested in modern planetary sciences, in the progression and expansion of classical geology into, literally, other worlds... Gene's brilliance, energy, wit, and his science show through in every chapter."--Susan W. Kieffer, Physics Today "[Levy] skillfully describes Shoemaker's work and sharply delineates his strong personality."--Scientific American
Preface ixAcknowledgments xvChapter 1: Of Bonding and Discovery: 1993 3Chapter 2: Of Family and Ex: 1925-1948 14Chapter 3: Over the Sea, Over the Sea: 1948 27Chapter 4: Springtime, Carolyn, and the Colorado Plateau: 1948-1952 30Chapter 5: A Revolution in Earth 44Chapter 6: Impact! 58Chapter 7: A Shun in the Dark: 1953-1960 69Chapter 8: A Dream Ends, A Dream Begins: 1960-1963 81Chapter 9: Just Passing By on My Way to the Moon: 1964-1965 92Chapter 10: Surveyor's Golden Years: 1966-1968 101Chapter 11: One Giant Leap: 1968-1969 113Chapter 12: Sail Along, Silvery Moon: 1969-1970 126Chapter 13: Chairman Gene: 1969-1972 138Chapter 14: Shoot-out at the Moenkopi Corral: 1970-1972 151Chapter 15: The Little Prince Revisited: 1972-1979 160Chapter 16: A Ship Sails: 1977-1989 175Chapter 17: Cornets and Carlyn: 1980-1995 184Chapter 18: A Rock-Knocking Geologist: 1984-1995 197Chapter 19: Springtime on Jupiter: 1993 213Chapter 20: Yes, Virginia, Comets Do Hit Planets: 1994 225Chapter 21: New Challenges: 1995-1997 241Chapter 22: Dr. Shoemaker, I Presume: 1997 251Epilogue 262Notes 269Selected Bibliography 285Index 297