Shoemaker Levy 9 - Collision Course

Collision course

You may excuse, the informations taken out of this TIME magazine are very old, to be exact from the year 1994. It is the story of the comet called Shoemaker Levy 9 his way and his destination Jupiter, and the story of the expectations of several scientists. Until today I haven't found a newer TIMES with informations about what happened after the 16th of July.
On the 16th of July scientists witnessed one of the greatest impacts in our solar system. SL9 hit Jupiter.
For about ten hours the planet rang like a bell. Jupiter glanced in twice it's brilliance.
Only a few weeks before the impact, scientists told us that SL9 could hit earth.
But what a luck the comet changed it's opinion and decided to hit Jupiter itself. Shoemaker Levy 9 was not more than a chunk of interstellar debris, to be precise a chunk of 21 pieces.
SL9 wandered maybe 4,5 Billion Years as one big debris through the space thrown like a pinball from planet to planet and a decade ago it had the misfortune to come as close as 25. 750 km to Jupiters Jovian athmosphere and crashed into small pieces.

From then on it stayed in the orbit slowly gaining in size and speed and slowly coming into collision course with Jupiter.
Somebody suggested that the combined energy of these debris could have reached up to 20. MIO. MEGATONS TNT. That's more as the energy of the worldwide nuclear arsenal, and this would be enough to destroy the earth two times. The comet travelled at a high speed.
60 km per second. The scientists calculated a small chance that the debris were still intact as they collided with Jupiter. It is a fact that SL9 unleashed a mushroom cloud which raised 2400 km outside the planet.
The kind of these events helped and helps to shape the solar system.
We humans owe our existence, and who knows our destruction to this dirty snowballs.

Before the impact scientists tried to figure out what could happen to Jupiter. Under the more spectacular oppinions one can find that Jupiter may gain a ring or a second red eye, you know that great red spot in Jupiters athmosphere.
But whatever happened, never before humans had been able to look at such events with the full range of their scientific aides.

One could say that every telescope was headed towards Jupiter.
The site of each explosion whirled into view about 10 minutes after each impact. But only one had a direct look.
The spacecraft Galileo. Nearly wrecked because of damages Galileo is only able to shoot pictures every 2.3 second. The transmittion is painfully slow. Scientists hoped to see everything. But not every scientist was interested in such a idealistical way.
Some wanted sure proof of their theories in mathematics and physics and their researches on nuclear weapons.

But the more important question is. Could a similar blast happen to earth?
And what would happen? If a comet like SL9 hits the ocean a tidal wave would destroy the coastlines.

And if it hits land it could incinerate whole countries and kick up a cloud that simply switches off the sun and bring a good cold nuclear winter. Besides some million or even billion people will die. God's sake, the comet will hit Jupiter.
But why is the comet called Shoemaker - Levy 9?

On March 23rd 1993 the Astronomers Eugene and Carolyn Shoemaker and David Levy stayed one night at the Schmidt telescope at Palomar university.
Eugene Shoemaker made career with trading asteroids and comets. 1982 his wife joined him as an unpaid partner. She has already discovered 28 comets - WORLD RECORD.

David Levy has already discovered 8 comets and co discovered 13 others.
That night they wanted to stop their researches because outside the clouds thickened and it would be more than luck if they found one piece out in the space.

But CAROLYN SHOEMAKER wanted to have one more look found a comet, and described it as a small faint line.

Eugene Shoemaker was surprised. He never expected to see a comet near Jupiter. So he first thought that it was a asteroid. The difference between a comet and an asteroid is simple. An asteroid consists only of rocks.
These asteroids you can find around planets A comet is made of ice, rocks, gas and dust. The dust reflects the suns, for that reason we see comet always with a faint line behind .

The reason, why Eugene Shoemaker was so surprised is that their new found comet consisted of more than only one piece.
From Palomar university they sent a message to Cambridge in Arizona to confirm their comet.
Brian Marsden also called "the celestial policeman" confirmed their claim. Hte next day two experts at the Jet Propulsion lab took over the job of calculating where Shoemaker Levy 9 was going to.

Three months after the discovery the clan of planetary scientists met in Sicily to consider the hasard of asteroids colliding with earth.

Edward Teller chief of the meeting had calculated a small chance that the comet Swift Tuttle which was discovered in the eighties collides with earth in the year 2126. Now they calculated also a small chance that SL9 will hit earth but how in former times these estimates were revised. The comet will hit Jupiter.
And as we know now, the comet really hit Jupiter on the 16th of July 1994. Until today the pictures of the impact are not fully transferred from the Galileo spacecraft.
It will take several years to find out what really happened on the July 16th 1994.

950 Worte in "deutsch"  als "hilfreich"  bewertet