The fragment R collision: W. M. Keck telescope observations of SL9

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  03 Mar 1995:
Vol. 267, Issue 5202, pp. 1320-1323
DOI: 10.1126/science.7871431


The W. M. Keck telescope was used to observe the impact of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL9) fragment R at a wavelength of 2.3 micrometers on 21 July 1994. The data showed three outbursts. The first flash lasted about 40 seconds and was followed 1 minute after its peak by a second flash that lasted about 3 minutes. A third, longer lasting flare began 6 minutes after the first flash and lasted for 10 minutes. At its maximum brightness, the flare outshone Jupiter. The two short flashes are probably associated with the initial meteor trail and the subsequent fireball, respectively. The bright flare occurred when the impact site rotated into view. These data show that the explosion ejected material at least 1300 kilometers above the visible cloud tops. The luminosity of the impact site during the long bright flare was probably maintained by the release of gravitational potential energy, as this material fell back onto the lower atmosphere.