Every so often amateur astronomers record incredible incidents in space, and this latest one involving Jupiter certainly qualifies.
The Austria-based astronomer recorded a video of an object smashing into the gas giant and leaving a huge plume. At this stage it is impossible to say what the object was, but it could have been an asteroid or a comet.
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Collision with Jupiter recorded by amateur astronomer
What is for certain is that something smashed into Jupiter traveling extremely fast, and the event was captured on video by astronomer Gerrit Kernbauer. The object that he captured on video was relatively small and was pulled in by Jupiter’s huge gravitational field, reaching incredibly high speeds.
The video shows a plume of debris after impact, which had a force equivalent to 12,500,000 tons of TNT. Collisions of this kind happen around once a year on average, so Kernbauer was very lucky to capture it on video.
Seeing a bright flash from millions of miles away might give the impression that Jupiter was hit by something big, but it seems likely that the object was only a few tens of meters wide. The impressive impact can be explained by Jupiter’s incredible gravitational pull, which means objects hit its atmosphere around 5 times faster than they would hit Earth.
As a result an object colliding with Jupiter would carry 25 times more energy than one hitting our atmosphere. This makes for a far more impressive flash.
Shoemaker-Levy 9 collision revealed role of gas giant
Another eye-catching collision took place in 1994, when the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet struck Jupiter in an event captured by NASA’s Galileo probe. Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke up in July 1992 before smashing into Jupiter two years later. It marked the first time that humans had directly observed a collision of two Solar System objects, It received a huge amount of attention in the media, even before the age of the internet.
“Because it represented a new phenomenon–the Internet delivering near-instantaneous science results from an unfolding major story– the effort also attracted considerable media attention. Baalke’s home page made the front cover of Science magazine in August, for example, and was featured in an article in Newsweek in September,” read an article from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory from 1995.
The collision taught us a great deal about Jupiter, and revealed the gas giant’s role in reducing space debris in the inner solar system. In turn that means that here on Earth we are protected from comets and asteroids.
Solar system’s largest planet continues to fascinate
Another significant impact was seen by Australian amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley in 2009. It turned out to be an asteroid. One year later Wesley another large impact that was confirmed by Christopher Go, an amateur astronomer based in the Philippines.
Thanks to the advance of technology and falling prices, amateur astrologists are now able to capture amazing footage. These days there is no need to spend millions of dollars on an observatory to be able to see extraterrestrial events such as this one.
In fact an off-the-shelf telescope and a video camera are often sufficient. That is not to say that astrophotography is easy, but it is possible to capture amazing footage if you have the skill and the patience.
Luckily there are plenty of people around the world who are willing to spend the time capturing events like this one. Hats off to Kenbauer.