Passed near Jupiter – the beginning of the end of Comet Shoemaker Levy

30 years ago, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 split into many pieces – and months later they formed a long chain in space (Hubble/NASA/ESA)

At first there was nothing to see on Earth. It wasn’t until nine months later that Caroline, Eugene Shoemaker, and David Levy discovered a string of unusual comets in one of the images.

It soon became clear that these objects were orbiting Jupiter. Orbit analyzes showed that the comet fragments, named after the discoverers, would no longer cross the planet in July 1994, but would fall into it.

Experts had never before been able to follow such a cosmic collapse. The comet’s fragments raced through the planet’s clumps of gases over the course of six days. It was previously unclear whether the pieces, which at best were a thousand meters in size, could leave any visible traces at all.

you may. The chain collision exceeded all expectations: every hit caused an explosion. The “scars” can be seen in Jupiter’s atmosphere for weeks – even in amateur telescopes. The Hubble Space Telescope, which was still new at the time, made its debut, and attracted the world’s attention.

But for Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 that was the end. The comet was simply “unlucky” to have been captured by Jupiter and propelled into its deadly orbit over a few decades. In return, he presented astronomy fans with a unique spectacle.

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