Jupiter Gets Hit By Huge Object! (Photos)

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Our Biggest Gas Giant, Jupiter, Gets Hit By Massive Object

Jupiter is huge. Its gravity is just as huge. To give you some perspective of the sizes we’re talking about, let’s do some comparison. That famous Great Red Spot—the magnificent storm that’s been raging on Jupiter for years—is big enough to fit the whole Earth inside. The sun—the gravitational lord of our solar system—could hold over 1.3 million Earths inside. It could only hold a thousand Jupiters. In other words, Jupiter is a thousandth the size of our sun, which gives it a lot of gravity. In fact, astronomers speculate that Jupiter gets hit all the time. Meteors, comets, and asteroids as big as 20 meters across hit Jupiter sometimes up to five times a month, according to some astronomers.

Luckily for us, Ethan Chappel, an amateur astronomer, happened to be taking pictures of Jupiter when the blast occurred. Chappel (@ChappelAstro on Twitter), who lives in Texas, was searching for Perseid meteors on Wednesday night. He trained his telescope on Jupiter with the camera running. After feeding his data through a software program, an alert told him he’d captured an impact. Chappel tweeted about his discovery Wednesday night, saying “Imaged Jupiter tonight. Looks awfully like an impact flash in the SEB.” 

Then Chappel Tweeted Some Amazing Pics

The spot on the left shows just how big the impact was. Remember before when I mentioned that the Great Red Spot (on the right) was about the size of Earth? I’m just eyeballing it here, but it looks to me like that impact flash is the size of the Moon!

Here’s an animation that Chappel tweeted:

How Big Was the Impact?

Of course, the object that made the impact probably wasn’t the size of the moon. In fact, even though this was a relatively big impact, scientists say it probably won’t leave a scar the way Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet did in 1994. The scar left by that impact has captured the imaginations of astronomers ever since. 

The Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet was observed by the Hubble space telescope, which just is still making us proud out there in orbit. In fact, Hubble recently captured a stunning image of that Great Red Spot—which, incidentally, is shrinking.

Jupiter as seen from Hubble earlier this year.

Jupiter as seen from Hubble earlier this year.

As with anything in science, Chappel’s findings need to be independently verified over and over by the astronomical community. They’ll want to make sure that what we’re looking at is actually an impact and not one of the bright lightning flashes or auroras that often occur on Jupiter. So far, however, astronomers who have looked at the data guess that a meteor made the flash. However, as often as Jupiter gets hit, I’d say that’s a good bet.

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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