Planets and Moons  ID: 11263

Comet Strike

Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was on a collision course. The comet had once orbited Jupiter, circling the gas giant every two years. But during a close encounter with the planet, it was ripped apart by tidal forces. A trail of fragments, some greater than 3,000 feet across, was all that remained of the icy mass. In July 1994, the fragments raced towards Jupiter’s south pole, exploding into fireballs as they entered the cloud-filled atmosphere. Each impact set off fiery plumes that could be seen by observing spacecraft. The event, which took place over six days, was the first collision of two bodies in the solar system ever witnessed by humans. Watch the visualization to see a re-creation of this historic clash.

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Story Credits

Greg Shirah (NASA/GSFC)
Ernie Wright (USRA)
Tom Bridgman (GST)

Michael Starobin (HTSI)

Lead Scientist:
Amy A. Simon (NASA/GSFC)

Lead Writer:
Aviva H. Rutkin (USRA)

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Cover image courtesy of NASA
Jupiter pre-impact image courtesy of NASA, ESA, STScI/H. Weaver and E. Smith, JPL/J. Trauger and R. Evans
Hubble image courtesy of NASA, ESA, STScI/H. Weaver and E. Smith
Jupiter time-lapse image courtesy of NASA, HST, WFPC2, SSI/H. Hammel

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