Daily Illuminator

July 25, 2009: Poor Jupiter

Back in 1994, Jupiter got punched in the eye. Well, not the "eye" of the Great Red Spot, but Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 did slam into the gas giant with enough force to cause an impact spot the size of Earth. The first fragments fell on July 16, with a total of 21 fragments over the next six days.

This year, the largest planet in our solar system got hit again. On July 20, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory caught infrared images that indicated another collision. That's right -- exactly 15 years later.

Coincidence? A dictionary would tell us "yes," but conspiracy theorists know better. Especially when you factor in the other historical event which happened on July 20: the landing of Apollo 11 on the lunar surface. Were those spots the result of comets smashing, or psychic echos of our first walk on another celestial body? Perhaps what we called "Shoemaker-Levy 9" was a multi-stage lander. Or maybe comets hanging around the outer planets just find themselves drawn to Jupiter's sexy spots.

(Yes, I know "gravity" could explain it all, but the last time I talked to Jupiter, he was rather sensitive about his weight, so I'm trying to avoid the topic.)

-- Paul Chapman

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