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Space Pictures / Shoemaker-Levy 9 (Original)

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Title: Shoemaker-Levy 9 Comet

Source: Hubble Space Telescope

Information: The Shoemaker-Levy 9 Comet collided with Jupiter in the third week of July, 1994. The comet was torn into pieces as a result of a close approach to Jupiter in July 1992. Analysis of high resolution images of the comet taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in July 1993 suggests that the major cometary fragments range in size from one to a few kilometers. The large fragments are embedded in a cloud of debris with material ranging in size from boulder-sized to microscopic particles. Although comet-like outgassing of the fragments has not been observed, the fragile nature of the object suggests that it is indeed a comet rather than a more compact asteroid. Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was the ninth short periodic comet discovered by Eugene and Carolyn Shoemaker and David Levy. It was first detected on a photograph taken on the night of March 24, 1993 with the 0.4 meter Schmidt telescope located on Palomar mountain in California. Subsequent observations were forthcoming from observers at the University of Hawaii, the Spacewatch telescope on Kitt Peak in Arizona, and McDonald Observatory in Texas. These observations were used to demonstrate that the comet was in orbit about Jupiter, and had made a very close approach (within 1.4 Jupiter radii from Jupiter's center) on July 7, 1992. During this close approach, the unequal Jupiter gravitational attractions on the comet's near and far side broke apart the fragile object. The disruption of a comet into multiple fragments is an unusual event, the capture of a comet into an orbit about Jupiter is even more unusual, and the collision of a large comet with a planet is extraordinary, millennial event.