Sunday, July 22, 2012

Shoemaker-Levy 9 hits Jupiter

Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 approaching Jupiter
On July 22, 1994, the last parts of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 collided with the largest planet within our solar system, Jupiter. This was the first time, that an extraterrestrial collision of two objects could be directly observed.

Shoemaker-Levy 9 got its name from the US-American scientists Eugene Shoemaker, his wive Carolyn, and David Levy, it was the 9th periodic comet to be discovered. The first prediction of its collision with Jupiter was made in 1993 by the Japanese Shuichi Nakano, who also found out about its unusual consistency. It was broken into many fragments of a diameter up to 1.2 miles, because of the comet's close approach to Jupiter in 1992. It passed Jupiter within the Roche Limit and broke apart into the 21 segments.

The collision itself could not be seen from Earth because of its location, only the spacecraft Galileo could record the collision from the distance of 1,6AU. From Earth hot gas bubbles at Jupiter's edge were detected and because of the short rotational periods of Jupiter, the impact was clearly visible from Earth a few minutes after the collision. Shoemaker-Levy 9 left dark spots with a diameter of up to 7500 miles and the crash caused an energy release of about 50 million Hiroshima-bombs.

Due to the huge impact of the collision, Astronomers were hopeful to get an idea of what the planet Jupiter looks like beneath its clouds. They found a big amount of sulfur, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide as well as iron and magnesium, and a small amount of water.

At yovisto Dr. Mark Showalter will talk about Jupiter's ring that shows vertical corrugations reminiscent of those recently detected in the rings of Saturn and how he and his colleagues found that the pattern is associated with the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts of July 1994.

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