Skip Navigation: Avoid going through Home page links and jump straight to content

Shoemaker-Levy 9 Observations Widespread


From the "JPL Universe"
January 13, 1995

Shoemaker-Levy 9 Observations Widespread; JPL Also 'Nerve Center' for Quick Internet Access

Although the Galileo spacecraft was in the best position to view last July's impacts of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter, two other JPL-managed spacecraft recorded various measurements from the event.

On its way out of the solar system, Voyager 2, heading south, observed SL9 with its ultraviolet spectrometer and planetary radio astronomy instrument.

The Ulysses spacecraft, on its way to explore the sun's polar regions, made measurements of radio and plasma waves from the comet's position at about 75 degrees south of the sun's equator and about 800 million kilometers (500 million miles) from Jupiter.

JPL's Deep Space Network facility at Goldstone, Calif. performed radio astronomy on the synchrotron emission from Jupiter's radiation belt, looking for disturbances caused by Shoemaker-Levy dust.

Also, numerous Lab astronomers and scientists also played a role in observing the phenomenon. Among them were Drs. Paul Chodas and Donald Yeomans of the Navigations Systems Section 314, who led efforts to track ephemeris data, noting the times and locations of the comet's impacts.

For Galileo's part, some data were available July 18, only two days after the first impact, via the spacecraft's photopolarimeter instrument--a small telescope-like meter on Galileo's scan platform, according to Dr. Terry Martin, science coordinator for the instrument.

He said the instrument detected infrared light at a wavelength of 945 nm coming from the H fragment of the comet, its intensity about 3 percent of the brightness of Jupiter itself.

The impact times predicted by Chodas and Yeomans were off by only two to 10 minutes.

During the collisions, JPL became the nerve center for Internet access to SL9 images worldwide. JPL software engineer Ron Baalke organized a comet "home page" on the World Wide Web system as a volunteer effort that snowballed into a major clearinghouse of images attracting worldwide attention and recognition from NASA Headquarters and the news media.

Besides offering SL9 images delivered by the Hubble Space Telescope, JPL planetary spacecraft and Lab astronomers using ground-based equipment, Baalke's Web page garnered submissions from more than 50 other observatories around the world. The page eventually offered some 853 images of the impacts of comet fragments with Jupiter.

The first image, a picture of comet fragment A from the Calar Alto Observatory, was sent to JPL and appeared on the home page just three hours after the impact occurred. Fragment Q images were available on the page just one hour after impact.

During the comet impact week the page handled some 1.1 million file requests, transferring 24.9 gigabytes, Baalke noted; for all of 1994 the total was more than 3.2 million files or an estimated 80 gigabytes. The page was accessed by public users in 59 countries.

Because it represented a new phenomenon--the Internet delivering near-instantaneous science results from an unfolding major story-- the effort also attracted considerable media attention. Baalke's home page made the front cover of Science magazine in August, for example, and was featured in an article in Newsweek in September.

sl9_icon.gifComet Shoemaker-Levy Home Page