Facebook Twitter



Three weeks after huge explosions triggered by bombardment from a comet, the cloud tops of Jupiter still glow from heat and are blackened with wispy scars, scientists report.

Heidi Hammel, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology astronomer, said someone using a telescope using infrared filters can clearly see pockets of hot gas on Jupiter caused by the pounding of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9.In briefing members of Congress, Hammel said Tuesday that some of the 21 pieces of the comet that smashed Jupiter's atmosphere from July 16 to July 22 created superheated lakes of hot gases that boiled with traces of sulfur, magnesium and silicate.

"They are still there," she said. "They are still very bright in the infrared. It looks like they will be there for a while."

Hammel said she made the infrared observations this week through a telescope in Hawaii.

Astronomers elsewhere are using telescopes in the visible light band, she said, and are still detecting the black puffs left in the Jovian clouds by the high-speed impact of the comet pieces. Hammel said the dark marks are beginning to be smeared by winds and some are merging, forming a dark band over the southernmost quarter of Jupiter.

"We don't know if these marks will be permanent," she said. "It's too early to tell."

Jupiter is 11 times the diameter of Earth, but most of the giant planet is hydrogen, helium and ammonia. Only the core of Jupiter, which is thought to be about 8,000 miles in diameter, is thought to be solid.

Hammel and Harold Weaver of the Space Telescope Science Institute said astronomers studying the effects of the comet have still not detected any traces of water, a molecule they expected to be prominent in plumes from the impact. The absence of water is leading some to speculate that Shoemaker-Levy was, in fact, a shattered asteroid instead of a comet.