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How Comets Work


Comets Can Break Apart
Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was broken into 20 pieces by Jupiter's gravity.
Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was broken into 20 pieces by Jupiter's gravity.
Photo courtesy NASA/Space Telescope Science Institute

As comets pass through the inner solar system, they can be broken into pieces by Jupiter's gravity. Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was broken into 20 pieces, each of which collided with Jupiter in one of the most spectacular examples of interplanetary impacts in recorded history.

Artist's rendering of the collision of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 and Jupiter
Artist's rendering of the collision of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 and Jupiter
Photo courtesy NASA/JPL
Here is a Hubble Space Telescope image of Jupiter after pieces of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit the planet. The dark spots are the impact sites.
Here is a Hubble Space Telescope image of Jupiter after pieces of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit the planet. The dark spots are the impact sites.
Photo courtesy NASA/JPL

Recently, comet LINEAR was also broken into fragments by the sun's gravity as it passed the sun.