Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Abstract The impacts of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 left spots on Jupiter with diameters on the order of tens of thousands of kilometers, which have the appearance of debris fields strewn upon the Jovian cloud tops. In this note we employ a measurement of the optical depth of the debris at the impact site of fragment G to estimate mass in the debris field and lower limits to the G fragment mass of 4×1012 – 4×1013 g and diameter of 0.1 – 0.3 km. The masses and sizes of the fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 are still uncertain, with estimated sizes ranging from 0.1 to 4 km. The size of the cometary body before breakup is believed to have been between 1 and 10 km. (Asphaug & Benz 1994; Solen 1994; Weaver et al. 1994, Scott & Melosh 1993). These estimates were based on pre-impact images of the cometary fragments. A complimentary technique is to use post-impact images of the spots left on Jupiter to infer the sizes and masses of the fragments. Structure in the underlying clouds is clearly visible through spots imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope, implying that the debris fields are relatively thin. Shortly after the G impact, A'Hearn and collaborators (paper in preparation) used the University of Maryland CCD System at the Perth Observatory to image Jupiter in a variety of bandpasses. While a complete reduction is still underway, a preliminary examination of the raw data shows that the spot at the impact site of fragment G, when near the central meridian roughly three hours after impact, had an average optical depth of roughly 0.05 in several bandpasses between 0.62 and 0.73µm. The measured diameter of the spot was approximately D = 15,000 km. In this note we do not present the data for optical depth, but rather we show that measurements of this type can be used to determine the mass of the solid particles in the clouds and thus to set limits on the mass of the impactor. We assume that the spot consisted of a thin layer of dust in the upper atmosphere. Assuming a one-particle layer covering a fraction of 0.05 of the spot area (a valid assumption for an optically thin cloud), the mass of matter in the spot is M = (0.05π/4) ρdD2, where ρ and d are the particle density and diameter. Particle sizes are not directly measured. However, the particle diameters cannot be much less than 1 µm because the CCD observations when compared with HST ultraviolet images show that extinction is not strongly wavelength dependent at optical and near-uv wavelengths. Typical grain sizes in comets and in the zodiacal dust range from 1 to 10 µm. For particle densities of 0.5 g cm−3 and assumed particle diameters in the range 1 – 10 µm, we find masses, M = 4×1012 – 4×1013 g. Assuming an impactor density of 0.5 g cm−3 (Asphaug & Benz 1994), the corresponding fragment diameters are 0.1 – 0.3 km. Larger sizes for the grains would increase the estimated mass. The observed debris may not be actual comet dust. Since temperatures in the fireball are estimated to be several thousand degrees, all the material in the fragment should have been vaporized (Sekanina et al 1995; Takata et al 1994; Zahnle & MacLow 1994). Therefore the debris material could consist of recondensed matter, perhaps organics, from the fireball. An impactor collides with roughly its own mass of atmospheric material before disruption, so the estimates for the impactor mass hold to order of magnitude even if the debris contains matter with contributions from originally atmospheric gases. The estimate of 0.1 – 0.3 km diameter for the G fragment is a lower limit because the object would also contain material, for example ices, that would not appear in the debris field. Furthermore, since the HST images show structure in the spots that is unresolved in the observations used here, the spot may not be optically thin at all points, but only on average, and this leads to our estimate being a lower limit for the mass of particles. As noted above, the particles are unlikely to be much less than 1 µm in size; particles much larger than 10µm would also imply a larger mass of particles. The derived fragment size is comparable to those estimated from pre-impact observations.
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