In a cosmic sense, the collision of the ninth periodic comet discovered by the team of Carolyn and Gene Shoemaker and David Levy with the planet Jupiter was unremarkable. The history of the solar system, indeed its very genesis, has been marked by countless such events. The cratered surfaces of planetary bodies are a testament to this ubiquitous phenomenon; even the Earth's ephemeral surface records the continued action of this elemental process in impact craters and in the fossil record.
In human terms, on the other hand, the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9's 20-odd fragments into Jupiter was an unprecedented event of global significance. After a year of planning and preparation, the largest astronomical armada in history focussed on the planet Jupiter in July 1994. News of each successively more astonishing image or spectrum was broadcast with almost instantaneous speed over the world's increasingly sophisticated computer communications network. Astronomers were, for a time, to be found on daily newscasts and the front pages of newspapers. For a week in July, the world looked up from its normal preoccupations long enough to notice, and to ponder, the awesome beauty of the natural world and the surprising unpredictability of the universe.
Still one more perspective on this event remains. What has science gained from the terabytes of images, lightcurves and spectra obtained over the entire range of the electromagnetic spectrum?
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