NASA's Galileo spacecraft has begun a six-month process of radioing to Earth data taken during the collisions of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 at Jupiter in July.
From its vantage point in space en route to Jupiter, Galileo had the only direct view of the collisions of comet fragments on the dark side of the giant planet July 16-22. Galileo stored observational data on its onboard tape recorder and is transmitting them to Earth via its low-gain antenna over several months.
Ground controllers initially instructed Galileo to send back "jail-bar" image strips -- narrow slices of various portions of data -- to help them search for the most promising observations on the spacecraft's tape recorder. Preliminary looks at "jail-bar" data recently sent to Earth of the impact of the comet's fragment K led scientists to confirm detection of an intense burst of light lasting about 40 seconds. These data are from a special image frame that was deliberately smeared during a time exposure to form a streak from Jupiter and another from the impact flare, providing high resolution in time and brightness. More data from the K event will be sent to Earth in October.
Other data still stored onboard the spacecraft include images of the fragment W impact; mission scientists do not yet know whether the actual impact was captured on these frames. A small portion of the fragment W data will be sent to Earth in mid-August and late September; the rest is scheduled to be received in January.
Data from the fragment G impact were taken with Galileo's ultraviolet spectrometer, the infrared mapping spectrometer and the photopolarimeter. These data will be returned starting in late September and continuing through December.
Galileo data primarily of interest to scientists and amateur astronomers will be posted on an ongoing basis on Internet via the World Wide Web system. This may be accessed by the public from the home page of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., at the address http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/ under the "News" heading.
If comet impact images of more general interest are received, they will be released through the newsrooms at NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C., and at JPL.
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