The Impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 Sends Ripples Through the Rings of Jupiter

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Science  31 Mar 2011:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1202241


Jupiter’s ring shows vertical corrugations reminiscent of those recently detected in the rings of Saturn. The Galileo spacecraft imaged a pair of superimposed ripple patterns in 1996 and again in 2000. These patterns behave as two independent spirals, each winding up at a rate defined by Jupiter’s gravity field. The dominant pattern originated between July and October 1994, when the entire ring was tilted by ~2 km. We associate this with the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts of July 1994. New Horizons images still show this pattern 13 years later and suggest that subsequent events may also have tilted the ring. Impacts by comets or their dust streams are regular occurrences in planetary rings, altering them in ways that remain detectable decades later.