Wednesday , October 20 2021

Amateur Astronomers Spot a Fireball on Jupiter


Earlier this week, amateur astronomers around the world independently got a glimpse of something big crashing into Jupiter.

The space debris that must regularly fall on Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, must be surprisingly large. We can’t see all of these effects, as the vast majority are so small, but once in a while something big hits this gas giant, creating an impact flash that ground observers can see.

Such an event seems to have occurred on September 13 at approximately 22:39 UTC.

German astronomer Harald Paleske was one of several amateur astronomers to notice a sudden flare at the top of the Jovian clouds, Spaceweather reported. The temporary glow seen in Jupiter’s equatorial regions “could just be an effect,” he said. Paleske was observing Jupiter’s moon Io casting its shadow on the gas giant, according to EarthSky.

The fireball lasted exactly two seconds. Spaceweather suspects the disturbing object is an asteroid or comet and is about 328 feet (100 meters) in diameter. Paleske denied that passing objects such as airplanes and satellites disrupted his line of sight, according to Spaceweather.

Brazilian amateur astronomer José Luis Pereira observed the same thing at the same time. (His video above has been looped for easy replay.) As Sky and Telescope reported, Pereira used proprietary astronomy software called DeTeCt to detect the fireball. Developed by Marc Delcroix, this program searches incoming astronomical data and issues an alert when an abnormal observation or transient is detected. In this case, the alert assigned a high probability that the explosion was caused by a collision. Pereira verified the data with Delcroix.

Now that Delcroix has received similar reports from at least seven astronomers, it now seems clear that some kind of object has struck Jupiter: one from Brazil, two from Germany, three from France, and one from Italy, according to Sky and Telescope.

Large objects are known to crash into Jupiter from time to time, the previous event was in 2019. Famously, comet fragments from Shoemaker-Levy 9 flew into the gas giant in 1994, creating a temporary scar in the upper atmosphere. According to Sky and Telescope, at least eight impact flashes have been recorded on Jupiter over the past 27 years.

Astronomers are asked to watch Jupiter to see if the last collision also left a mark.

More: Wow, a meteorite hit the Moon during the ‘super wolf blood moon’ eclipse.

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