Poor old Jupiter. It’s just hanging in there, being a gas giant, shepherding the Trojan, minding its own business, and boom. Sunken upside down by a stray space rock.
That’s not necessarily unusual for Jupiter, really. What is unusual is that someone is watching and filming at just the right time – and this month, as it happened, sky-watchers around the world are catching an explosion in the planet’s upper atmosphere.
On 13 September 2021, at 22:39 UT, amateur astronomers recorded a bright flash visible as a Jupiter impact – namely Harald Paleske from Germany, who was recording Io’s shadow as it passed in front of the planet. had passed, and Jose Luis Pereira from Brazil.
Others included Simone Galilei in Italy and Jean-Paul Arnold and Michel Jackson in France. Thibaut Humbert, Stephan Barre, Alexis Desmogin and Didier Valliang of the Société Lorraine d’Astronomie in France also managed to film the putative effect.
If confirmed, this event would be the eighth impact event observed on Jupiter since the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994, which broke apart due to Jupiter’s tidal forces, and produced a string of impacts.
These were actually on the far side of the planet, but a 2.2-meter telescope in Hawaii spotted the heat signatures of these impact sites as they orbited into view, and Hubble captured the dark spots left behind on the clouds, which are known as marks.
It is not known exactly how often Jupiter collides with something bigger or faster to produce an impact flash visible from Earth, but it is thought to be quite frequent – somewhere between 20 and 60 times per year. Jupiter is large and has an enormous gravitational field, which accelerates meteorites to generate more energetic events than those experienced on Earth.
But we don’t see them as often as they are predicted to happen, for a variety of reasons. The most recent capture of an impact event on Jupiter ended two years ago.
“It’s a very fleeting event, it’s a few seconds,” astronomer Jonty Horner of the University of Southern Queensland in Australia told ScienceAlert at the time.
“It wouldn’t be so obvious, if you were looking through the eyepiece of a telescope. A lot of times these things will go unnoticed and unnoticed. Half of them will be on the far side of the planet. So there’s a lot of these things.” About things that work against watching events.”
Light on Jupiter! anyone home? This bright impact flash was spotted yesterday by astronomer Jose Luis Pereira on the giant planet.
Not much is known about the impacting object yet, but it is likely to be larger and/or faster!
— ESA Operations (@esaoperations) September 14, 2021
Still, the rate at which we detect them appears to be increasing. This will be of great benefit to astronomers hoping to understand Jupiter’s role as a cosmic vacuum cleaner protecting Earth from rocks that might otherwise be headed our way.
Some analysis suggests it may be exaggerated, but, either way, understanding it more precisely could help us model the possibilities of life in other planetary systems that have gas giants like Jupiter. are or not.
The object that smashed Jupiter in 2019 turned out to be an object 12 to 16 meters in diameter (40 to 50 feet) with a mass of about 450 tons and a stony-iron structure.
We’ll have to wait for a deeper analysis of the flash, and subsequent observations looking for an impact trail, to see what struck Jupiter this time. But with so much material to work with, we’re excited to see what astronomers find.