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This is an image of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, broken into many pieces.
Click on image for full size
NASA/NSSDC and the Space Telescope Science Institute

What we learned from Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9

Scientists have learned a great deal from the crash of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9.

  • Scientists traced the orbit of the comet backwards in time to guess its origin. This calculation, along with the discovery of objects in the Kuiper Belt suggested that Jupiter does not necessarily solely draw to itself objects coming in from the Oort cloud, but may draw objects from closer in.
  • The crash of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 might not have been a once in a millennium event, but happens more frequently. A search of lunar surfaces revealed that, indeed, there was evidence to suggest that strings of broken comets had impacted solar system objects in the past.
  • Evidence suggests that the explosions created perturbations in Jupiter's atmosphere which remained for 2 years.
  • Scientists still debate how fragile the comet was. The evidence of comet SL-9 can support the idea of either a strong nucleus or a weak nucleus.
  • Scientists still debate the significance of the fact that very little water seemed to be stirred up from Jupiter's atmosphere.
  • Scientists still debate whether SL-9 was a comet or an asteroid.
  • Evidence from the comet crash seems to suggest that Jupiter's powerful radio emissions may have their source in particles stirred up from the atmosphere during storms.

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