The Planetary Society

October 11, 1997

Planetary Society Grants Will Honor Shoemaker by Helping Astronomers Continue the Search for Near Earth Objects

The Planetary Society will honor the late planetary geologist, Eugene Shoemaker, and his quest to better understand near earth objects (NEOs) with a new program called the Gene Shoemaker Near Earth Object Grants. The first grant recipients will be announced by Apollo Astronaut and former U.S. Senator Harrison Schmitt at the Celebration of Life service for Dr. Shoemaker at the U.S. Geological Survey Flagstaff Field Center in Arizona on October 11, 1997.

The grants, totaling $35,000, will be given to four researchers from around the world with programs to search for NEOs -- asteroids and comets with orbits close enough to Earth to pose a potential hazard to our planet. Only about 5 to 10% of the estimated number of one-kilometer or larger objects in Earth's orbit have been found and tracked so far.

The four recipients are Gordon Garradd, Australia; Kirill Zamarashkin, Russia; Walter Wild, Chicago, Illinois; and Bill Holiday, Corpus Christi, Texas. Thirteen grant applications were reviewed by a selection committee comprised of seven eminent scientists.

NEOs have crashed into the Earth in the past with devastating results. Chicxulub Crater in the Yucatan was made by an object some 10 km across colliding with Earth 65 million years ago. That impact probably contributed led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Even far smaller objects can wreak widespread havoc. Dr. Shoemaker's landmark studies, extending the early work of Daniel Moreau Barringer, proved conclusively that the mile-wide crater in Arizona, now known as Barringer Meteorite Crater, was caused by an impact of an iron-nickel meteorite about 150 feet across with Earth nearly 50,000 years ago. Prior to Dr. Shoemaker's work, the crater was believed by many to be the remnant of an extinct volcano.

Discovering and tracking all NEOs will allow scientists to better understand these bodies and the role they play in the evolution of the solar system. Mapping their orbits will also give us early warning if any of these bodies poses a future hazard to Earth.

Garradd currently operates the only NEO observing program in the southern hemisphere. Based in Loomberah, New South Wales in Australia, Garradd will use his Gene Shoemaker NEO Grant to complete a 45-cm Newtonian telescope currently under construction and to acquire a larger, higher-grade imaging sensor called a CCD.

Zamarashkin is the project coordinator for a joint Russian-Ukrainian search program at the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory. This team of scientists has been studying NEOs for 30 years and has discovered 910 minor bodies, 12% of the currently numbered minor planets. The grant money will be used to help construct the first element of an automatic complex to search for NEOs.

Wild, an astronomer at the university of Chicago, leads a group of amateur astronomers who are conducting an NEO search from Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin. The grant money will be used to refurbish their 24" telescope and to bring their spectrograph to operational capacity for use with a 41" telescope used for follow-up classification of NEOs.

Holiday is an amateur astronomer based in Texas. Working from a home-built rotating roof-observatory, Holiday will supply additional data to professional astronomers to help them make orbit predictions for NEOs. The grant will be used to upgrade his equipment.

Services celebrating the life of Dr. Shoemaker will be held in Flagstaff on October 11.

Dr. Shoemaker was killed in a traffic accident last July in Australia, where he went to study ancient impact craters.

The Gene Shoemaker Near Earth Object Grant selection committee members are Richard Binzel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Andrea Carusi, Instituto di Astrofisica Spaziale; Clark Chapman, Southwest Research Institute; Brian Marsden, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Alain Maury, Telescope de Schmidt - Observatoire de la Cote d'Azur; Syuichi Nakano, Japanese astronomer; and Jorge Sahade, La Plata Observatorio Astronomico, Argentina.

Observers interested in applying for future NEO grants in the program should contact the Planetary Society for an application by writing the Society at 65 North Catalina Avenue, Pasadena, California 91106 or sending an e-mail to

Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded the Society in 1980 to advance the exploration of the solar system and to continue the search for extraterrestrial life. With 100,000 members in over 100 countries, the Society is the largest space interest group in the world.

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