Celestial springs

Published: Thursday 31 August 1995

Cometary crashlanding (Credit: JPL /NASA)WHEN the giant comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed against Jupiter exactly a year ago and took the world of science by storm, it also created water.

Researchers working with Italy's National Research Council have been monitoring the impact, using a radio telescope equipped with a high-speed spectrometer. And they now claim that water has been detected in Jupiter's upper atmosphere after the mighty collision, in the course of which 20 fragments of the comet - each with the power of millions of nuclear warheads struck the planet. This is a particularly significant development because certain groups of scientists believe that a similar cometary collision created the conditions for life on Earth. "What might have happened here billions of years ago, following bombardment by swarms of comets, could have occurred and may be occurring now in millions of planetary systems of the galaxy," enthused a spokesperson of the Council.

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