Lectures on Physics has been derived from Benjamin Crowell's Light and Matter series of free introductory textbooks on physics. See the editorial for more information....

High Energy Impact

In July of 1994, Comet Shoemaker-Levy struck the planet Jupiter, depositing 7 1022 joules of energy, and incidentally giving rise to a series of Hollywood movies in which our own planet is threatened by an impact by a comet or asteroid. There is evidence that such an impact caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Left: Jupiter's gravitational force on the near side of the comet was greater than on the far side, and this difference in force tore up the comet into a string of fragments. Two separate telescope images have been combined to create the illusion of a point of view just behind the comet. (The colored fringes at the edges of Jupiter are artifacts of the imaging system.) Top: A series of images of the plume of superheated gas kicked up by the impact of one of the fragments. The plume is about the size of North America. Bottom: An image after all the impacts were over, showing the damage done.



Last Update: 2009-06-21