|The Planet Quiz Show|
When the 20 fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 struck Jupiter during the week of July 17, 1994 not very much was expected to be seen. The target areas were just out of sight behind Jupiter’s limb when the impacts occurred. To the surprise of everyone, dark blotches emerged from the crash sites as Jupiter’s rotation brought them into view about a half hour later. One of the most interesting observations occurred when about a dozen members of the Berks County Amateur Astronomical Society of Reading, PA observed Io, one of Jupiter’s large moons, brighten and flicker as fragment B entered the Jovian atmosphere at 11:07 p.m. EDT on July 16th. BCAAS member, Priscilla Andrews, attended a Jupiter crash symposium in Washington, DC several weeks later and relayed this proprietary information to the comet’s discoverers, Eugene and Carolyn Shoemaker and David H. Levy, as well as to astronomer Carl Sagan. Other individuals verified the observations of the BCAAS members during subsequent months as more information about the crash became available. The Jupiter comet crash was the first documented collision of a cometary body with a planet in the history of humankind’s observations of the heavens. It led to an unprecedented search for asteroids in our solar system and, more importantly, asteroids that could cross the orbit of the Earth and become a potential threat to the survival of the human species. This international effort resulted in the discovery of nearly 250,000 asteroids. As of April 6, 2008 there were 946 potentially hazardous Earth-crossing asteroids that could one day strike our planet.
Hollywood’s reactions to the Jupiter collisions were the making of two films, “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon.” The former movie was more authentic to the ramifications of what would happen if a relatively small body, several blocks in diameter, collided with the Earth. Even “The Simpsons” got into the act, featuring an episode called “Bart’s Comet,” which addressed, in a more comedic fashion, an Earth-comet strike.
|Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 looked like a beautiful string of pearls before striking Jupiter in July of 1994.|
|The dark markings visible in Jupiter's atmosphere after the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts bear witness to the immense powers that are unleashed when meteorites or comets strike other objects. The last time something like this happened to Earth was about 65 million years ago when 75 percent of all species, including the dinosaurs, became extinct.|