Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 gave Jupiter a gift, left water in its atmosphere

Water map: ESA/Herschel/T. Cavalié et al.; Jupiter: NASA/ESA/Reta Beebe (New Mexico State University)

For a while now, astronomers have wondered where water found in Jupiter's upper atmosphere may have come from. But thanks to some recent observations, they now have an answer.

According to observations from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel Space Observatory, the water is likely from the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which broke up and collided with Jupiter in July 1994..

Scientists first noticed the water in the planet's upper atmosphere back in 1997, according to NASA. Astronomers believe that the water must have come from an external source and is not "native" to the planet, since Jupiter's upper atmosphere lacks significant quantities of oxygen (and of course, without oxygen, you don't have water).

After looking at a variety of possibilities for how that dihydrogen monoxide got there—ranging from satellites to ice rings and dust particles—astronomers finally settled on comets as the source.

NASA’s Far Infrared Instrument (HiFi) and Herschel's Photodetecting Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS) examined at the distribution and vertical of the water to confirm it was from the 1994 comet. According to astronomers, the water concentration is two to three times higher in the atmosphere surrounding Jupiter's southern hemisphere, which is right around where Shoemaker-Levy 9 plowed into the planet.

The image at top details the position of the water surround the planet: the brighter the color, the denser the amount. Quite the parting gift for Jupiter, right?

[ESA, NASA]

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