By Jove!; October 1994; Scientific American Magazine; by Horgan; 2 Page(s)
The week-long bombardment of Jupiter by Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 has already generated enough data to sustain decades of astronomy conferences. "We're going to have lots to argue about," chortles Eugene M. Shoemaker, a veteran comet hunter, who together with his wife, Carolyn Shoemaker, and amateur astronomer David Levy discovered the comet. "This is absolutely the most dramatic event we've ever observed in the solar system." The impact has also, inevitably, aroused concern over whether, or when, the earth will be revisited by some celestial Shiva.
Just weeks after the Shoemakers and Levy discovered the comet at California's Mount Palomar Observatory on March 24, 1993, further observations revealed it to consist of numerous fragments--eventually labeled A through W-- spread out in space like a strand of diamonds. Workers calculated that the comet had broken up during a previous approach near Jupiter and that it would plunge into the planet for good in July 1994.