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Palomar Images of Fragment EFGHL Impacts


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These images of Jupiter show several impact sites from Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. A team of astronomers from Caltech and Cornell University took the pictures using two infrared cameras on the Palomar Observatory 200-inch Hale telescope on July 19th, 1994. Jupiter's South pole is at the bottom of each image, and the planet rotates from left to right.

The image on the left, made at 7:50 pm PDT, is at a wavelength of 10.3 microns, and shows the bottom third of Jupiter including three recent impact sites. At this wavelength we see the thermal radiation from the gases heated by the impacts. Most prominent is site L, setting on the right limb of the planet, which was only about 5 hours old (1/2 Jupiter rotation) at the time the image was taken. Sites G and H also remain visible despite their being about 40 and 30 hours old, respectively. Each of these two smaller spots is about the size of the Earth.

The image on the right shows Jupiter at a wavelength of 2.3 microns about 1 hour later. Since the first image, the planet has rotated about 36 degrees, site L has disappeared off the right limb, and sites E and F have appeared on the left. Most of Jupiter is faint at this wavelength because methane in its upper atmosphere absorbs the incident sunlight before it reaches the main cloud deck. We believe that the impact sites, on the other hand, are bright due to the scattering of light from residues of the cometary impacts deposited at high altitudes. Also visible in this image is the famous Great Red Spot, a bright band north of the equator, and the South Polar Hood, all of which are normally visible on Jupiter.

The observers were:

Philip Nicholson, Tom Hayward, John Miles, Collen McGhee, Jeff VanCleve (Cornell University)

Gerry Neugebauer, Keith Matthews, David Shupe, Alycia Weinberger (Caltech)

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