Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Explosions on Jupiter Staggering

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Explosions on Jupiter Staggering

Article excerpt

The power is phenomenal. The numbers are almost beyond belief.

Two of the largest fragments of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smashed into Jupiter Monday, dwarfing the titanic explosions already observed and blinding some of the most powerful telescopes on Earth.

The first of the twin terrors detonated a fireball brighter than Jupiter itself. Using a revised scale, astronomers said the released energy equaled 6 million megatons of TNT.

That is 6 million million tons of TNT - about 600 times more powerful than Earth's entire arsenal of nuclear weapons. Put another way, imagine 8 pounds of TNT stacked on each square foot of land on Earth and then ignited.

And that was just the force unleashed by one of the 21 fragments that already have hit Jupiter.

"The energy released is beyond any of our experiences on Earth," said Lucy McFadden, a University of Maryland astronomer. "We're clearly struggling to assimilate the information."

Comet co-discoverer Eugene Shoemaker said: "It was a big wallop. It had an absolutely spectacular effect in its impact on the planet."

Known as Fragment G, the 2.2-mile-long chunk of the fractured comet struck at 2:30 a.m. Monday, St. Louis time, just around the far side of Jupiter. Within a few minutes, the impact site rotated into view and astounded researchers.

The slab of ice and interstellar dust had ignited a fireball nearly 25 times larger than any seen so far. Revising their calculations, astronomers said the largest previous chunk, Fragment A, released as much energy as 250,000 megatons of TNT.

Fragment G generated temperatures in excess of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The resulting plume rose to 1,300 miles above the gaseous planet, far exceeding the 600-mile height produced by Fragment A.

Some telescopes on Earth and orbiting in space photographed the collision's aftermath. But several telescopes that monitor infrared radiation temporarily were overwhelmed - essentially blinded - by the power of the explosion.

"It was like having a camcorder in a dark room and someone opens the shade and the light overwhelms the lens," said astronomer John Clark of the Space Telescope Institute.

A second large chunk of the comet, Fragment H, struck at 2:26 p. …

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