[FPSPACE] Another space anniversary - Shoemaker-Levy 9's impact on Jupiter in 1994

LARRY KLAES ljk4 at msn.com
Fri Jul 17 07:54:25 EDT 2009

As we celebrate the start of the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, another space
event that began 25 years after Neil, Buzz, and Mike began their journey atop a
Saturn 5 rocket took place roughly 400 million miles from Earth at the planet
The comet known as Shoemaker-Levy 9, which had broken up earlier into at
least 20 main fragments thanks to Jupiter’s massive bulk, began slamming into
the gas giant world on July 16, 1994, creating huge impacts that were visible
even in amateur telescopes. 
Dark areas the size of our planet appeared in a long chain across the face of
Jove for days from these impacts. The larger fragments created mushroom
clouds from their impacts that were 1,200 kilometers tall! As one might
imagine, the comet SL-9 event did a lot to get scientists, politicians, and
the general public to take the threat of celestial impacts on our world much
more seriously.
I well remember this event. I even had a chance to look at Jupiter through a
telescope on the night it all began, but I was a bit early for viewing the impact
markings. PBS Television had live extensive coverage as they often did in those
days. This was also one of the early big events shown on the very young World
Wide Web, which was born at CERN just one year earlier.
As the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11 was also happening at this time, the news
media naturally tried to combine and contrast what was happening at Jupiter then
with what took place on the Moon a quarter-century earlier. They even replayed
ABC-TV’s coverage of the Apollo 11 landing, which I videotaped. Lots of models
and hand-made drawings were used to show the audience what was going on and
just what those guys up there on the Moon and down in Mission Control were
talking about.
I recall some folks half-jokingly saying that the comet impacts on Jupiter were the
Cosmos’ way of marking and celebrating Apollo 11’s silver anniversary. I hope the
Universe doesn’t get carried away for the fiftieth anniversary a decade from now!
Lots of good images and info on comet SL-9 here:
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