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8.22 Impact on Jupiter

Eugene Shoemaker. Click here for original source URL

Carolyn Shoemaker. Click here for original source URL

For many years, the threat of impact by asteroids and comets seemed like something that only happened to other places and in other times — it wasn't something that had been captured for replay on the nightly news. The 1908 Tunguska explosion was the only impact reputably observed impact event in recorded history! This all changed in 1993 when American astronomers Carolyn Shoemaker, Gene Shoemaker, and David Levy discovered an unusual comet on a collision course with Jupiter. Named after them, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 had already been broken into more than twenty fragments by Jupiter's tidal forces during a previous close encounter with the giant planet.


David Levy. Click here for original source URL.

Astronomers around the world watched breathlessly as the fragments plowed into the planet over a period of days in the summer of 1994. Unfortunately, the impact sites were just around the edge of Jupiter on the far side, but photos from the Hubble Space Telescope revealed huge clouds rising above the edge of Jupiter’s disk as a result of the explosion. Jupiter’s rotation brought the impact sites into view a few hours later, where photos revealed huge black clouds, probably created by the black dust in each fragment.

At the time, it was believed that this impact was a once in 500 year event. In the 2000s it became apparent this was a complete miscalculation. With the advent of low cost, highly sensitive detectors, Jupiter came under nearly constant vigilance by amateur astronomers. They have captured in their images multiple flashes associated with small impacts. It's now believed that Jupiter regularly vacuums up small objects zipping through the middle of the Solar System.

Impacts of debris from comet Shoemaker-Levy on Jupiter. Click here for original source URL.