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Comet SL9 Caused Outburst in Jupiter's Microwave Radiation


From the National Science Foundation.


During last July's impacts of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter, microwave emissions from electrons in the planet's magnetic field--as measured by a global network of 11 Earth- based radio telescopes--showed a dramatic outburst, according to an article in the June 30 issue of Science. The outburst may have been caused by a redistribution of the emitting particles, and sheds light on the configuration of Jupiter's magnetic field. Images from two radio telescopes--the National Science Foundationsupported Very Large Array and the Australia Telescope--showed that emissions were enhanced locally near the planet's magnetic equator. The radio telescope network was used to monitor Jupiter's microwave emission during the impacts and to search for changes in radiation from the planet's inner magnetosphere, the region around Jupiter where charged particles are trapped by the planetary magnetic field.

Before the impacts, researchers had predicted the opposite: the comet's dust would lead to a reduction in the planet's radio emissions. "The highlight of the radio observations instead was a dramatic increase in the radio flux density during the six days of cometary bombardment," write the authors, 27 collaborators headed by Imke de Pater, University of California-Berkeley.

"The comet impact has provided us with a unique experiment to unravel one of the outstanding issues in magnetospheric physics: the energization and radial transport mechanism of the energetic electrons in Jupiter's radiation belts," they write. [For More Information, contact Lynn Simarski, 703 306- 1070]

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