Remembering Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9’s impact on Jupiter, 23 years ago this week

View of Jupiter from the Hubble Space Telescope after the impact of one of the largest fragments from Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994. Photo Credit: NASA/STScI

Jupiter has been in the news a lot lately, with the Juno spacecraft continuing to send back stunning new images of the largest planet in the Solar System, including close-ups of the Great Red Spot. But something else happened at this time 23 years ago which captured astronomers’ and the public’s attention – a huge explosion in Jupiter’s atmosphere as a comet broke apart and the fragments collided with the planet, plummeting into the deep, thick atmosphere. The impacts and resulting “scars” were observed by telescopes around the world.

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Juno reveals Solar System’s largest storm like never seen before

One of the first new images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/SwRI/Kevin M. Gill

Last Monday, July 10, NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew directly over Jupiter’s Great Red Spot for the first time, providing the closest views ever of this gigantic storm system which is much larger than Earth in size. While the science data collected has been streaming back to Earth, what most people have been waiting for of course are the images. The first ones had been expected around Friday this week, but they actually became available yesterday – and as anticipated, they are fantastic!

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A stormy, turbulent world: New science results from Juno reveal ‘whole new Jupiter’

Jupiter in all its glory: stunning view from Juno showing intricate details in the atmosphere of the gas giant. Image Credit: NASA/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran

The first in-depth science results from the Juno mission at Jupiter were presented yesterday morning in a NASA media teleconference, and as referred to in the press release, they do indeed reveal “a whole new Jupiter.” The Solar System’s largest planet is incredibly active and complex, with polar cyclone storm systems as large as Earth, other storms which plunge deep down into the atmosphere and an immense, but lumpy, magnetic field. Juno has sent back the most detailed images ever taken of the planet, showing the atmospheric storms and other features, including Jupiter’s rings, as never before.

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First science results from Juno show surprises in Jupiter’s atmosphere and interior

Newly-released, enhanced colour view of Jupiter’s south pole from Juno as seen on Dec. 11, 2016. The image was taken from an altitude of about 52,200 kilometres (32,400 miles) above the planet’s beautiful cloud tops. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gabriel Fiset

There has been a lot of attention given to the Cassini mission at Saturn lately, but meanwhile, NASA’s Juno probe also continues to be busy studying the largest planet in the Solar System, Jupiter. Juno is now revealing more of the giant planet’s secrets, and the first science results have now been published, which were presented last week at the European Geosciences Union meeting. As is common in planetary science, the new findings include significant surprises.

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