Hubble - greatest discoveries
The solar neighbourhood:
What Hubble has taught us about planets, asteroids and comets in our own Solar System
Hubble's high resolution images of the planets and moons in our Solar System can only be surpassed by pictures taken from spacecraft that actually visit them. Hubble even has one advantage over these probes: it can look at these objects periodically and so observe them over much longer periods than any passing probe could. Regular monitoring of planetary surfaces is vital in the study of planetary atmospheres and geology, where evolving weather patterns such as dust storms can reveal much about the underlying processes.
In comparison with probes that have to travel vast distances and require years of planning to visit the planets Hubble is also able to react quickly to sudden dramatic events occurring in the Solar System. This allowed it to witness the stunning plunge of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 into Jupiter's atmosphere during the period 16-22 July 1994. Hubble followed the comet fragments on their last journey and delivered incredible high-resolution images of the impact scars. The consequences of the impact could be seen for several days afterwards, and by studying the Hubble data astronomers were able to gain fundamental information about the composition and density of the giant planet's atmosphere. Since the impact of Shoemaker-Levy 9, Hubble has continued to study impacts and events on Jupiter, improving our understanding of the Solar System's largest planet.
Pluto and its surrounding moons have also been the target of Hubble's observations. Several new moons have been discovered as well as a dwarf planet beyond Pluto, which led to the discussion of Pluto being a planet.
Hubble also observed the spectacular break up of comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 as it visited the inner Solar System, the asteroid collision P2010/A2 and a mysterious disintegrating asteroid.
This is one of nine articles highlighting some of the greatest discoveries made by the Hubble Space Telescope. Read more in the articles linked from the right-hand menu.