Astronomer Dan Peterson of Racine in Wisconsin observed an apparent impact on Jupiter early Monday that created a large, bright fireball on the planet. He was observing the largest planet in our Solar System with his 12-inch telescope when the event occurred. Dan Petersen reported the sighting on the ALPO_Jupiter forum.
Jupiter Impact 10 Sept. 2012 11:35 UT. Image Credit: George Hall
Amateur astronomer George Hall of Dallas visited the forum, saw the report, and decided to check his footage, because he suspected he might have captured a video of the event. “When I saw the post, I went back and examined the videos that I had collected this morning,” Hall wrote on his astrophotography website. And indeed, he had a video of the 7:35 a.m. EDT impact.
The flare lasted just two seconds – and Halls’ equipment happened to capture the shot at exactly the right moment for the image. Hall said: ‘I decided to just observe on this particular morning. Had I been imaging I probably would have missed it while playing with webcam settings and focusing.’
It is unclear whether the impacting object was an asteroid or a comet. “My best guess is that it was a small undetected comet that is now history, hopefully it will sign its name on Jupiter’s cloud tops,” Peterson wrote in the forum.
Now astronomers are waiting for the planet to swing back round – to see if Jupiter has been scarred by the impact. If it has, a black smudge is likely to appear on the ‘clouds’ of the planet, a distinctive mark to go alongside the Red Spot – Jupiter’s giant storm.
Asteroid impacts on Jupiter were reported in 2009 and 2010 – and in 1994, the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet that broke into pieces and slammed into the gas giant in 1994, offering us an eerie glimpse of what happens during such colossal impacts.
George Hall said: It’s kind of a scary proposition to see how often Jupiter gets hit.’
Sources: The United Press International, Inc and the Daily Mail