Herschel Links Water Around Jupiter to Comet Impact

Astronomers have finally found direct proof that almost all water present in Jupiter’s stratosphere, an intermediate atmospheric layer, was delivered by comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which famously struck the planet in 1994.

The findings reveal more water in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere, where the impact occurred, than in the north.

The map above shows the distribution of water in the stratosphere of Jupiter as measured by the European Space Agency’s Herschel space observatory. White and cyan indicate the highest concentrations of water, and blue indicates lesser amounts. The map has been superimposed over an image of Jupiter taken at visible wavelengths with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

The origin of water in the upper atmospheres of the solar system’s giant planets has been debated for almost two decades. Astronomers were quite surprised at the discovery of water in the stratospheres of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, which dates to observations performed with ESA’s Infrared Space Observatory in 1997.

For more on the findings, see the NASA press release.

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