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SOLAR SYSTEM
Lesson 5 - Page 6

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Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9

Collisions

As comets come into the Solar System from the Oort Cloud or the Kuiper Belt, they cross the orbits of the planets. Once in a while, a planet and a comet collide. We recently witnessed the results of one such event: the collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter. This comet was found in 1993 by the team of Gene and Carolyn Shoemaker and David Levy. While it appeared as a streak on the first photographs, later pictures revealed that the comet was broken into 20 pieces, probably by coming too close to Jupiter in the past. In July of 1994, all of the pieces of Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit Jupiter. The impacts caused explosive plumes of gas to shoot many thousands of kilometers into space above Jupiter. Large dark "scars" the size of the Earth also appeared in Jupiterís atmosphere. Many of them were still visible month later. As of 1999, small bits of debris thrown up by the impact continue to hit the planet.

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