Amateur stargazers capture a space rock smashing into Jupiter

The gas giant is hit by space rocks 12-60 times annually, but astronomers have seldom recorded these fleeting impacts.
Mrigakshi Dixit
Representational image of Jupiter.
Representational image of Jupiter.


A cosmic rock collided with Jupiter in the last week of August, unleashing a brief flash of light that was captured by Earth-based telescopes. 

The Japan-based network of telescopes, primarily consisting of the Organized Autotelescopes for Serendipitous Event Survey (OASES) and the Planetary Observation Camera for Optical Transient Surveys (PONCOTS), successfully detected this visible impact.

Reportedly, an amateur astronomer was able to catch this rather brief collision on the gas giant. 

MASA Planetary Log, an amateur astronomer account on the X social networking platform (previously known as Twitter), shared a video capturing the impact event that occurred on August 28 at 12:45 p.m. Eastern Time (1:45 a.m. local Japan time on August 29).

Other amateur astronomers on X corroborated the same hit, describing the observation of a bright flash, which is believed to have been caused by a small comet or asteroid.

More investigation is needed to ascertain the exact size and type of object, and if it belonged to our solar system or not.

Not a new phenomenon

While it's not uncommon for stray objects to collide with Jupiter, capturing the collision as it happens at the precise moment is a relatively rare event. This occurrence has been recognized for decades.

Jupiter is occasionally battered by rogue comets or asteroids due to its enormous size and exceptionally strong gravitational pull. Moreover, Jupiter's gravitational influence reaches into the asteroid belt, situated between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Consequently, asteroids within the belt could experience altered orbits, potentially bringing them into close proximity to the planet and increasing the likelihood of collisions.

Some experts believe that the massive size of Jupiter is what protects Earth from frequent collisions with rogue space rocks, thereby allowing life to flourish. The planet either absorbs these objects that approach the solar system or flings them further away from Earth. Otherwise, these objects pose a big threat to Earth and other inner planets.

Thanks for being the savior, Jupiter. 

Other recorded impacts 

According to a 2013 research, the gas giant potentially experiences impacts from space rocks around 12 to 60 times each year.

Nevertheless, astronomers have had limited opportunities to document these brief, momentary impacts. The most recent documented impact occurred in September 2021. 

Amateur stargazers capture a space rock smashing into Jupiter
This is a composite photo, assembled from separate images of Jupiter and comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, as imaged by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope in 1994.

But probably the most well-documented instance occurred in 1994 when fragments of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet crashed with Jupiter with the force equivalent to 300 million atomic bombs.

On March 24, 1993, astronomers Carolyn and Eugene M. Shoemaker, along with David Levy, discovered this comet. Interestingly, it was the first comet discovered to be circling a planet, and not the Sun. “The effect of Jupiter's tidal forces had already torn the celestial body apart and, eventually, the fragments collided with Jupiter between July 16 and 22, 1994,” mentioned NASA in an old statement.

The comet had been orbiting Jupiter for over a decade when it was smashed into 20 pieces by the planet's tremendous gravity one day. The Hubble Space Telescope documented and captured this famous impact event on Jupiter. 

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