Jupiter got smacked again. On June 3, the same day NASA released new images of a bruise left on the giant planet when an impactor struck it July 19, 2009, two amateur astronomers found fiery evidence of a new collision.
Christopher Go of Cebu City in the Philippines and Anthony Wesley, observing the planet from Broken Hill, Australia, both recorded on video a small but brilliant fireball on the giant planet that astronomers say was generated by another collision with a nearby, as-yet-unidentified body. The videos, which show the flare brightening and fading over the course of about two seconds, appear to show the first time that a planetary impact on the sunlit side of Jupiter has been discovered and monitored in real time.
“This is not a hoax,” Wesley wrote on an amateur astronomy forum. “At approximately 20:30 UTC this morning I recorded a large fireball on Jupiter, it lasted a couple of seconds and was very bright.”
“The flare certainly bears all the characteristics of a Jovian ‘bolide’ or impact, says planetary scientist Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. “The data, independently confirmed by two well-respected amateurs, seem robust.”
Wesley also discovered the 2009 blemish on Jupiter, which vanished after several months.
In July 1994, a myriad of telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, witnessed the plumes generated when more than 20 fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 struck the planet.
The size of the body that struck Jupiter has not yet been estimated; that will require a detailed analysis of light from the flare, Hammel says. “The scientists who can do that work have already been alerted, and, like me, are gulping coffee and toast and frantically trying to keep up with the snowstorm of e-mails.”
She adds that it’s not yet known if the impact left behind a dark bruise in Jupiter’s atmosphere “since this appears be a small impact. We are working on getting the larger telescopes in gear for follow-up work, including proposals to the world’s largest telescopes and Hubble.”
If Hubble can’t see a blemish, “then this would be the first meteor ever seen on another planet,” Hammel says.
A fireball on Jupiter appears in this video taken by amateur astronomer Christopher Go in the Philippines. This is the third time since 1994 that researchers have documented collisions between neighboring bodies and the giant planet.
Video credit: © C. Go/Cebu City, Philippines