Hubble Space Telescope Observations of Comet P/Shoemaker-Levy 9 (1993e)

Science  11 Feb 1994:
Vol. 263, Issue 5148, pp. 787-791
DOI: 10.1126/science.263.5148.787


The Hubble Space Telescope observed the fragmented comet P/Shoemaker-Levy 9 (1993e) (P indicates that it is a periodic comet) on 1 July 1993. Approximately 20 individual nuclei and their comae were observed in images taken with the Planetary Camera. After subtraction of the comae light, the 11 brightest nuclei have magnitudes between ∼23.7 and 24.8. Assuming that the geometric albedo is 0.04, these magnitudes imply that the nuclear diameters are in the range ∼2.5 to 4.3 kilometers. If the density of each nucleus is 1 gram per cubic centimeter, the total energy deposited by the impact of these 11 nuclei into Jupiter's atmosphere next July will be ∼4 x 1030 ergs (∼108 megatons of TNT). This latter number should be regarded as an upper limit because the nuclear magnitudes probably contain a small residual coma contribution. The Faint Object Spectrograph was used to search for fluorescence from OH, which is usually an excellent indicator of cometary activity. No OH emission was detected, and this can be translated into an upper limit on the water production rate of ∼2 x 1027 molecules per second.