Review: Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact on Jupiter

Collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter Observed by the NASA Infrared telescope Facility” was written by a board of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientist as a report on their observations of the collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter as observed from July 12 to August 7, 1994.

The article described how this particular telescope allows scientists to attach three different measuring and/or recording instruments to help in observations.  The scientists chose to attach a camera with a low-resolution spectrometer, an Array Camera, and a high-resolution spectrometer.  These instruments let the scientists record their findings and obtain extensive information about each impact.

The scientist took measurements of the reflection of Jupiter on its moons Io and Europa to see how much of the impacts explosions were reflected onto the moons.  According to this article little or no reflection of the impact was recorded.

By making recordings of different wavelengths they observed the scientists noted there was a delay in emission of peak thermal waves between the actual moment of impact of fragment C and R and when the fireball that the fragments created which after exploding then reentered and heated the atmosphere.

When they measured the temperatures of the impact sites and compared it with the surrounding areas, they chose to record the thermal infrared waves.  Their measurements showed that E impact site was as much as 1.5 K warmer and was approximately 20,000 km in diameter.  [That would have been really fun to watch!]  Impacts Q1 and R were even warmer; as much as 3-4 times as warm as their surrounding areas.

The article continued to describe the different chemicals that were detected as emissions after the impacts.  Scientists predicted that due to the impacting comet fragments Jupiter’s atmosphere would increase in CO content as the CO was received from the fragments.  This was confirmed to cause “small stratospheric enhancement” of the normally stable CO molecule.

I enjoyed the images that were included in the article.  They provided excellent visual representation of the impacts and wave fluxes that were recorded.

Besides affecting the areas near each impact site the impact also affected the aurora emission at the poles of Jupiter.  I particularly found it interesting that although the C impact on July 17 caused only a slight increase in the southern aurora on July 27 the auroral emission was greater in the north.  I thought this interesting especially since the impact sites were all in the south yet their influence extended to the entire planet.

Now NASA scientists are collaborating with other scientists around the world to fill in any gaps in their information and compare experiment results to better understand how constraints and atmospherical properties affect all regions of a planet.