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European Southern Observatory Image of Comet Shoemaker-Levy


Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9: Less Than Six Days To the First Impact

This image of most of the fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (A - P) was obtained was obtained on July 11, 1994, 02:00 UT with the 3.5-metre New Technology Telescope. It was made by visiting astronomers Felix Mirabel, Pierre-Alain Duc, Sylvain Chaty (Service d'Astrophysique, Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique, Saclay) with the EMMI instrument and a 2000 x 2000 pixel CCD, covering a field of about 10 arcminutes across. Due to the different attraction of Jupiter on the individual comet fragments because of their different distance from the planet, they have now moved so far away from each other that the entire train is too extended to be seen in one frame.

The comet is now moving towards Jupiter with which the first fragment (A) will collide on July 16, just before 20:00 UT. It is seen at the upper left of the picture. At the moment of the exposure, fragment A was almost exactly 5 million kilometres from the planet. This distance will be covered during the next five days, at ever increasing velocity, ending with a collision at 60 km/sec.

Technical data: 15 min red exposure with EMMI RILD during mediocre seeing. North is up and East is to the left. The frame was flat-fielded and the strong, uneven background caused by stray-light from Jupiter (only 20 arcminutes away) was removed by the subtraction of a polynomially fitted artificial surface. The broad and diffuse ring, visible around the center of the photo, is an artefact of this process. Image processing by Olivier Hainaut.

This is ESO PR Photo SL9J/94-06 which accompanies the ESO SL-9/Jupiter Information Package and News Bulletin no. 2 of July 11, 1994. It may be reproduced, if credit is given to the European Southern Observatory.

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