Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Shoemaker-Levy 9 Anniversary

Fourteen years ago today began perhaps the biggest week of astronomy ever as the fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 began to slam into Jupiter.

The comet was discovered at Palomar by Eugene M. Shoemaker, Carolyn S. Shoemaker and David H. Levy using the 18-inch Schmidt on March, 1993.

From July 16 - 22, 1994 the astronomical world was captivated as at least 21 fragments of the comet collided with Jupiter. This was the first time that anyone was able to witness the collision of an comet or asteroid with a planet. The results were spectacular as Earth-sized clouds were produced in Jupiter's atmosphere that could easily be seen in small, amateur-sized telescopes.

The 200-inch Hale at Palomar was one of the many telescopes observing the event.

Image caption:
An infrared image of Jupiter at a wavelength of 2.3 microns, constructed in a computer from 5 individual images taken from Palomar Mountain on July 23rd and 24th, 1994, showing the scars left by the multiple impacts of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. The picture shows the planet as it would appear to an observer located above 45 S, 60 W. The prominent impact sites E, H, Q, G, and L (from left to right) are visible at 44 S, surrounding the bright South Polar Hood. The smaller spot between the Q and G impact sites is due to the R impact, which was observed directly from Palomar. The Polar Hood and the impact sites both appear bright in this image because they are composed of particulate clouds that are high above an opaque layer of gaseous methane, which obscures the underlying cloud deck at this wavelength. The fainter feature at 20 S, near the western limb of the planet, is the famous Great Red Spot.
JPL has an amazing archive of images from the event captured by telescopes on Earth and in space. Be sure to check it out as a part of your SL9 celebration.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And now it is the fifteenth anniversary, just as we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11.

Happy Anniversaries, everybody!