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Jupiter with comet impacts The Vault

Scientists worldwide watched Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slam into Jupiter in July 1994, representing the first time in human history that scientists were able to discover a celestial body in the sky, predict its impact and then record with an armada of ground- and space-based telescopes the comet's fiery plunge.

Although Jupiter clearly won the match, the largest planet in our solar system didn't emerge unscathed. In this Hubble image, taken nearly two hours after one of the fragments struck, the planet looks bruised. The impact area features a central dark spot 1,550 miles (2,500 km) in diameter, surrounded by rings that also are thousands of miles in diameter. Evidence suggests that the darkened spots on Jupiter and all the mighty plumes that soared into the planet's upper atmosphere occurred because of an object no more than one mile (1-1/2 km) in diameter.

Originally, scientists believed the comet measured at least six miles (9 km) in diameter before it broke up into fragments after an earlier pass by the planet in 1992. Despite its small size, scientists agree that Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 packed a mighty powerful punch. One year after the comet crash, astronomers could still see vestiges of the bruises. Interestingly, theorists had not predicted the bruising. In fact, scientists weren't certain of what they would see during the collision.


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