March 30, 2016 – Two amateur astronomers have managed to capture images of the moment Jupiter’s surface was struck by a comet or asteroid.
The videos, captured simultaneously in Austria and Ireland, show the bright glow of an impact on the surface of the gas giant. Though it hasn’t been confirmed what the object was, it is likely to be an asteroid or comet, with astronomer Phil Plait writing at Slate that the object was likely to be “a small asteroid or comet…probably in the tens-of-meters wide range”.
While it’s still too early to know exact details on the Jupiter crash, NASA asteroid expert Paul Chodas, who heads the agency’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said there’s greater chance that an asteroid, not comet, is the culprit.
“It’s more likely to be an asteroid simply because there are more of them the last few years,” Chodas told Space.com by phone.
“From our point of view this simply serves to remind us that impacts in the solar system are real and Jupiter gets more than its fair share of impacts,” Chodas said. “It draws in a lot of asteroids and comets. ”
“It’s gravity is stronger than earths. And it works sort of like a vacuum cleaner for asteroids that may impact earth. There has been a increase in asteroids in the last few years.”
“We are seeing these impact flashes on Jupiter about once a year now, and that’s I believe because of instrumentation.”
Amateur astronomer John McKeon was observing the king of planets by telescope from Swords, Ireland, on March 17 when he captured this stunning time-lapse video of something hitting Jupiter. McKeon was recording the transit of Jupiter’s moons Io and Ganymede with an 11-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and his ASI120mm camera when something struck Jupiter.