Something Big Just Slammed Into Jupiter

Gizmodo | 8/7/2019 | Staff
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Bright spot on Jupiter, seen August 7, 2019.

An amateur astronomer in Texas captured a rare sight earlier this week when an apparent meteor slammed into Jupiter’s thick upper atmosphere.

Wednesday - Astronomer - Ethan - Chappel - Lookout

On Wednesday, amateur astronomer Ethan Chappel was on the lookout for Perseid meteors, reports ScienceAlert. But his telescope was trained on Jupiter with the camera running. Later, after feeding the data into a software program designed to detect impact flashes, Chappel was alerted to the event.

Looking at the footage, Chappel saw a brief but discernible flash along the western portion of Jupiter’s Southern Equatorial Belt, or SEB.

Day - Chappel - Discovery - Tweet - Jupiter

Later that day, Chappel announced his discovery in a tweet: “Imaged Jupiter tonight. Looks awfully like an impact flash in the SEB.” Chappel released a sharper version of the impact on Thursday, along with a colorized view of the apparent impact.

The flash appeared at at 4:07 a.m. UTC (12:07 a.m. ET) and lasted no longer than a second and a half, said astronomer Bob King in his coverage at Sky & Telescope. The impact still needs to be confirmed by other astronomers, but it certainly bears the hallmarks of a meteor strike, and not something that might be produced by Jupiter’s lightning flashes or auroras.

Pinpoint - Dot - Signs - Impact - Events

“It expanded from a pinpoint to a small dot before fading away—telltale signs of a possible impact based on previous events observed at Jupiter,” noted King.

Looking at the flash, the size of the explosion seems small, but it’s important to remember that Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system. The meteor had to have been quite big to produce a flash of such prominence.

Tweet - Astronomer - Heidi - Hammel - Scientist

In a tweet, astronomer Heidi Hammel, a scientist working on the James Webb Space Telescope and a board director at the Planetary Society, said the impact won’t likely “leave dark debris like SL9 [Shoemaker-Levy 9] did 25...
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