Fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9

Fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9

. In July 1992, this comet passed so close to Jupiter that the icy material of its nucleus was torn apart by the differential gravitational forces of the giant planet. This panoramic image of the comet fragments was taken from the Hubble Space Telescope in January 1994, eight months after they were discovered and six months before they dived into the atmosphere of Jupiter. The length of the string of comet pieces is about 1.1 billion meters, three times the distance from the Earth to the Moon. The largest of the fragments in the string is about two kilometers across. Each fragment mimics a larger comet with a round coma and a dusty tail. (Courtesy of NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute.)

Copyright 2010, Professor Kenneth R. Lang, Tufts University