Yup. Jupiter got served

By Phil Plait | July 20, 2009 5:31 pm

JPL has observations that confirm that Jupiter got whacked hard by an impact.

IRTF image of Jupiter impact

The image was taken by the Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii. This IR image is at 1.65 microns, about twice the wavelength of what the human eye can see. What this shows is the bright impact site and to its upper left particulate matter — debris — thrown up by the impact and lit by the Sun.

So. Wow. Jupiter got hit by something big. More observations will be coming in soon, and maybe we’ll learn more about what happened.

And just to be clear; I was cautious in my earlier post, which I still think was warranted, but I’m glad to be wrong. This is much cooler than a big storm!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff

Comments (88)

  1. Al Seever

    Just awesome! How big is impact site? Close to the earth’s size?

  2. stillwaggon

    NASA’s press release on their observation does not mention the discoverer of the impact by name, just says “a tip from an amateur astronomy”. I sent the author of the release an email scolder her for the omission.


  3. Adrian Lopez

    Should we worry that, unlike Shoemaker-Levy, we didn’t know this one was coming?

  4. Catsceo

    Why do those Asteroid boys always have to hit Jupiter just because hes fat?

    On a more serious note, New Scientist is reporting that the spot is the size of Earth: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17491-jupiter-sports-new-bruise-from-impact.html

    I can’t wait to see the estimates of its size!

  5. Hevach

    No more worried than ever I should think. The most impressive thing about Shoemaker-Levy 9 was that we did see it coming. Our awareness of objects in the inner solar system is bad enough, but Jupiter’s believed to soak up a lot of objects that would never pose a threat to Earth anyway, we know even less about the objects out there than we do about the ones closer to home.

  6. Adrian, it depends. Jupiter is a long, long way away. We’re not looking for asteroids that might hit Jupiter, were looking for Earth-crossing asteroids which are, in general, much closer. We’re also a much, much smaller target (by orders of magnitude) in mass and size, so we’re a much harder target to hit.

    Always assuming that we continue to develop scientifically and technologically, I expect that we’ll be pretty much immune from asteroid and cometary strikes within the next few decades. Yes, there is time before that to be taken by surprise, but the odds are extremely small so, on balance, I don’t think there is much cause to worry.

  7. Darren Garrison

    “Should we worry that, unlike Shoemaker-Levy, we didn’t know this one was coming?”

    According to someone on a mailing list, the object should have been around magnitude 22 or 23– not very findable.

  8. Sili

    Sad that we don’t yet have a Solar System wide cadre of satellites observing non-stop.

    I’m really looking forward to them making that planet-internet or whatever – relay stations so that we don’t need line-of-sight to communicate. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to talk to the Mars rovers’ grandchildren despite being in opposition(?). And why not relays out there among the Greeks and the Trojans to improve chatting with the outer-outer planets?

  9. ZERO

    Reminds me of Shoemaker-Levy 9!

  10. Chris

    1.65 microns?? Try 6060 cm-1

    You silly astronomer. Everyone knows infrared radiation is in wavenumbers

  11. Zyggy

    I guess the cosmos decided not to ask Jupiter if it wanted to be smacked. How rude.


  12. ethanol

    too bad it didn’t happen on saturn.

    Chris: you keep your wavenumbers out of my NIR. Wavenumbers have no authority below 2.5 microns. Also, least intuitive unit ever.

    Edit: Ok, maybe ohms/square is worse

  13. Chris

    I nominate V/sqrt(Hz). =) Those calculating electrical noise using power spectra will understand!

  14. SafirXP

    WOW! Was it a comet or an asteroid… spectrograph will help solving it, right?

    Jupiter didn’t get smacked, this was just a pinprick.

    We need a space radar, catalog every possible object in the solar system!

  15. MadScientist

    Awesome – now what hit it and why didn’t anyone see it coming? :)

    @ethanol: I don’t know why you make the claims you do against wavenumbers; there are an awful lot of calculations which are simplified by using wavenumbers rather than wavelengths or frequencies.

  16. @SafirXP: Probably, but I seriously doubt it. For an impact like this, the amount of material dredged up to the upper atmosphere far exceeds the amount in the comet/asteroid/monolith ( :-p ) More likely, spectroscopy will provide quite a bit of info on the material deeper within Jupiter. Unfortunately, this impact occurs at roughly the same latitude as the SL9 impacts, so it isn’t useful to see if there are any latitudinal variations in Jupiter’s atmosphere.

  17. José

    Finally! proof for my 15 year Jovian death moon hypothesis.

  18. I know what hit it…

    “It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs!”

  19. Jess Tauber

    We get some too- in the newsfeeds today: http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20090720/sc_livescience/cometkillediceagebeasts

    Hexagonal nanodiamonds at sites all over North America from when the Younger Dryas started. Relevant to linguists, too, since the event likely destroyed a significant portion of the language diversification of the continent, which had to be recolonized by surviving populations. This issue is STILL a head-scratcher for the profession. Languages usually end from switch to other languages or war. Comets haven’t usually been on our list of causes. The Yahgan people of Tierra del Fuego had a story of giant rocks falling from the sky that wiped out almost everyone. Even the name they called themselves, Yamana, underlyingly meant ‘to survive’.


    Jess Tauber

  20. EEek! Does that mean that thing could have just as easily smacked us? :)

  21. Let me be the first to thank Jupiter for taking one for the home team! Thank you, king of the planets!

  22. TJ

    Maybe it’s not a spot. Maybe it’s a murder of monoliths.

  23. Gary

    “Psychic” claims of predicting this in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

  24. Ryanl

    I was under the impression we had the orbits of most of the larger objects in the solar system mapped.
    I’m curious as to why we didn’t see the advanced warning associated with Shoemaker-Levy 9 with this impact.

  25. @ Michael L
    Naw – it was one of those Lazlo Lyricon custom jobs.
    Looks like a fish, moves like a fish, steers like a cow.

  26. carmen oliver

    see, size does matter.

  27. carmen oliver

    debris !!!!?? jupiter got dirt!!!!???

  28. Cory Meyer

    Very very cool. I’m very curious what is the estimated size of the impact “wound” in comparison to the size of the Earth. Everything is bigger in Texas and Jupiter.

  29. So let’s see: famous astronomer and skeptic makes a claim (feature is not an impact), then feature turns out to be an impact. Therefore…(wait for it)…SCIENCE IS WRONG! SCIENTISTS KNOW NOTHING! TIME TO START TEACHING CREATIONISM IN SCHOOLS!


  30. Mena

    But how many football fields were the object and the impact site across, and the force of how many atomic bombs did it have? Those are units I can visualize much better. Just ask the documentary producers. ;^)

  31. Charlie Foxtrot

    Hmmm – ‘scientiferric journalism’? Source the Sydney Morning Herald…

    “An amateur Australian astronomer has set the space-watching world on fire after discovering that a rare comet or asteroid the size of Earth had crashed into Jupiter.”

    later in the same article: “Orton said he was not yet sure whether the object that hit Jupiter was a comet, asteroid or some other piece of space junk. But the impact mark is about the size of the Earth.”

    I’m not an expert, but my guess is that size of mark size of impactor, yeah?

  32. Mike Wagner

    Oops. That was “The Rapture” happening.
    Guess someone messed up the trajectory and it missed Earth.
    Quick, let’s put all the evangelicals in a rocket and send them to Jupiter so they don’t miss their chance.

    Okay okay, I’m a little bitter from watching creatard stuff on youtube.

  33. JM

    Sure glad Jupiter has our back,. 😉

    Now on to the solar eclipse – Moon at closest perigee will make for an exciting eclipse day! Longest total of the Century. Saw the last version of this Saros Cycle in 1991. I suspect that a quieter Sun will not display many prominences, nonetheless, it ought to be quite a show.

  34. The SMH article in question…

    They might have cleaned up the article but it does not mention earth sized objects just an earth size impact area.

    The amateur astronomer’s pictures can be found here…

  35. Charlie Foxtrot


    yeah, that’s the article – definitely updated from when I first saw it. I guess proof-readers come later in the article-writing process than I would have expected 😉

    I used to live in Canberra, and still drive through Murrumbateman quite often, so I’ve got a bit of extra ‘local boy makes good’ interest in this story :)

  36. @Charlie Foxtrot

    Or they got some complaints. I emailed a correction to the SMH once and it was corrected within hours.

    Ah, that Murrumbateman. Probably been through once or twice myself. Right in the middle of nowhere though.

  37. OT, but the many signatured Death book on Ebay is up to AU$590 (US$480) now. Sh*tvers. Silly me thought I could pick it up in the 3-400 buckeroo range. :(

  38. Sum Nut

    The Dark Star and the planet Nibiru are pushing asteroids from the Oort Cloud at us !!!
    Flee ! Flee ! Flee for your lives !

  39. sophia8

    @Mena: Over this side of the Atlantic, it’s not sports pitches, it’s how many Wales.

  40. Fredrik

    Is it 2010 already?

  41. Lawrence

    I’ll be very interested to see if they can back-track & get an idea of what might have caused the impact. But I also realize that space is a big place and the chances of us looking in the right place, at the right time, are vanishingly small.

    Hopefully, this will continue to nudge people into the realization that these impacts do happen, sometimes fairly often or at least more than every several million years, and we can get some more funding to help both track & develop potential means of dealing with anything that might be headed in our direction.

    Any updates on that one we are concerned about for 2029? I haven’t heard anything in a while & didn’t know if the trajectory had been nailed down yet for a close-flyby or potential impact.

  42. Alister

    yes SMH definitely edited their “Scienterrific” story (great word, Charlie Foxtrot!).

    I had already posted the link to facebook – my brain was doing backflips over the idea of an earth-sized object entering the solar system undetected – truly a WTF moment!!

    facebook retained the first sentence of the story – now pasted here for your amusement 😉

    Backyard astronomer spots big bang on Jupiter
    Source: http://www.theage.com.au
    An amateur Australian astronomer has set the space-watching world on fire after discovering that a rare comet or asteroid the size of Earth had crashed into Jupiter.

  43. 22. TJ Says:
    July 20th, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    Maybe it’s not a spot. Maybe it’s a murder of monoliths.

    Hmmmm… Maybe it’s time for NASA to rethink the planned Jupiter-Europa Orbiter. Didn’t the monoliths tell us that all worlds are ours except that one?

  44. Great article title! Win!

  45. Heh – I just finished reading 2010 last night. Spooky.

  46. mtsteveoh

    Since Jupiter is a large target and has such a magnetic personality, why isn’t someone observing this planet continuously? It would be a simple matter to compile a program that could be used to track Jupiter continuously. Dedicate a scope to the tracking chore, and, boom, problem solved, questions answered. Or perhaps this is already being done. If so, carry on, forget my musing.

  47. Jacob

    That was very clearly caused by Nibiru.

  48. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Someone had to take a dump of the warp core – again.

    We’re not looking for asteroids that might hit Jupiter, were looking for Earth-crossing asteroids which are, in general, much closer.

    By coincidence, or as BA would have it, irony, I learned about the studies of chaos in three-body systems such as Poincaré tubes (“interplanetary highways”) and, IIRC, weak stability domains.

    AFAIU they found the other year (2007) that bodies can hop between resonant orbits for free, say between Sun-Earth resonance to Earth-Moon resonance. So presumably one has to cover “all the angles” of Earth-crossers, which I didn’t intuit.

    maybe ohms/square is worse

    Sheet resistance gets my vote too; unneeded, unwanted and ad hoc. Flatly stated a planicipital measure.

    [We used to call it “sh-t” resistance, as the geometry corrections for IC measurements can be tedious if you want to check the actual value. And it sounds quite the same in “swenglish”.]

    [[I also want to point out that the censure above is imposed by bypassing BA’s filter, not my intended spelling.]]

  49. Good to know that Jupiter will still take a bullet for the inner Solar System.

  50. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ Jess:

    Interesting ideas. I don’t know about the language issues, obviously. Nor the rest.

    But the fact is that the article isn’t very helpful in orienting the reader among current science on these topics. Googling I’ll find that Hayes and others have seen a number of subsequent fauna extinction events, and that the hunting was done on an already dying megafauna as per the fossil’s age structures. I’m not sure if this has changed.

    Moreover, seems Clovis was a culture among others that was later replaced with more regional ones without necessitating the claimed wipe out of a population. [Wikipedia.] That is consistent with modern finds and several genome studies that puts a single pre-Clovis colonization ~ 15-16 ka. [“Mitochondrial Population Genomics Supports a Single Pre-Clovis Origin with a Coastal Route for the Peopling of the Americas”, Nelson J.R. Fagundes et al.] And that this population dispersed well before the mega-fauna die off (first along the coasts, and then with adopting new methods, say Clovis manufacture, inland). After that early dispersal it seems the population remained at a constant level, see the link.

    Maybe the newfound facts on ejecta are robust, but the stated context seems a bit iffy.

    More precisely and going to the comet theory, as I understand it the only bottleneck these modern (2008) human genome studies sees the last 30 ka seems to be pre-colonization, ~ 20 ka. Even though one can suspect that the dispersed effective population size can vary more than the figure in the linked paper implies.

    [I didn’t read the paper, but I see a common criticism on such studies – they usually don’t account for subsets of the larger population well, so there are more possibilities for variance than they claim. A regional population/culture/language effect likely can’t be precluded, as I understand it.]

  51. Michael

    I am just getting a tad suspicious! The odds of a comet like Shoemaker hitting Jupiter were phantasmal. Now we get another similar phantasmal hit. Extraterrestial itelligences? Anybody of you scientists believe in other intelligences out there? Or such? Or are you guys still hiding your heads in the sand! Did You ever hear of the Phoenix lights?

  52. GB

    I’m sure there’s an obvious answer to this that I’m not thinking of…but if Jupiter is a gas giant…how can it get “whacked hard” by an impact? Wouldn’t that be like a rock “whacking” a cloud?

  53. That was not an asteroid hitting Jupiter but a plasma discharge. When will you astronomers learn collisions never happen. The planet jus got hit by a electrical outburst from a distant star. The PU theory predicted such a thing would happen.

  54. dhtroy

    Noob question time:

    I’m curious, just how much science do we collect and learn from impacts like this one on Jupiter? I realize we have to learn something, I’m just wondering, “what”, exactly.

    Also, are there any missions in operation out that way, close enough, to get some good pictures of that impact?

  55. Stephen Mackenzie

    I demand to know the size of the impact site in Belgiums.

  56. Hey wasn’t that suposed to be planetX or Nemisis to visit us in 2012? Let’s thank Jupiter for taking one for the team. If the world doesn’t end in Dec.2012 we know why. (:

  57. Marcelo Wolfgang

    this was just the fireworks for the forty years of the landing on the moon!!!

  58. And this major astronomical event occurred in the Year of Astronomy during the very week of the first Moon landing. Don’t tell me there’s not some magical force behind THAT!

    Because I already don’t think there is – but I’m suspecting lots of people will make a connection. Astrologers will be in for a busy few weeks.

  59. The impact spot was the size of earth. That show you how insignificant we really are.

  60. Jason Wilson

    As a non-astronomer it’s amazing to me that there are objects out there that can make earth sized holes in Jupiter… other than earth or another planet.

    What exactly would the difference be between that earth-sized rock and our earth-sized rock? Is it just the orbit?

  61. Another Eric S

    Along the lines of carmen oliver’s question (#27) on debris, what exactly is a giant hunk of space rock impacting when it impacts a gas giant? I guess I always thought that, like a meteor streaking through our atmosphere, an object smacking into Jupiter would be done away with over considerable distance by friction. Is that not the case?

  62. blf

    That’s not an impact site. That’s the discharge from a massive cannon. H.G.Wells got it wrong, the invaders aren’t from Mars, they’re from Jupiter. They are coming! They are coming!! They are comming!!1!

  63. Chris A.

    @69. Another Eric S:
    “…what exactly is a giant hunk of space rock impacting when it impacts a gas giant?”

    First of all, the term “gas giant” is a misnomer. Jupiter (and Saturn, for that matter) are mostly liquid (by volume).

    More to the point, space rocks hitting Jupiter or Saturn go from vacuum (space) to atmosphere, producing enormous ram pressure in front of them because of their gigantic velocities. It’s the same reason you die if you fall into water from a great height–the “impact” is the fact that the water can’t get out of your way fast enough, producing horrific deceleration forces. Or in this case, the atmosphere can’t get out of the way fast enough. Friction doesn’t enter into it.

    Computer simulations of such impacts reveal a tube of underdense, superheated gas along the impactor’s entry path. Being relatively emptied of gas by the passage of the impactor drilling into the atmosphere, this tube “backfills” when the atmospheric pressure around it takes over shortly after the impactor burns up, producing a plume shooting back the way the impactor came.

  64. Mena

    Perhaps, but I just love the way that these units of measurement have become fairly standard in American made documentaries. We can’t use the metric system but of course we all know how big the Hiroshima bomb was. I’m also assuming that they mean American football, not Canadian football, not Australian rules football, or even football football. Wales is just as good a unit of measurement then, isn’t it? ;^)

  65. Joe Meils

    Here’s the other question that I have: We’re seeing this impact, but are we entirely sure there aren’t others about to take place, or that perhaps have already happened but we missed them?

    And above all, what if this was a “chain” group of objects that impacted Jupiter, but some of the rest of a the chain missed the “keyhole” as it were… Should be be the least bit worried about something getting into the inner system?

  66. confuseatron

    Jupiter SUCKS!

    I keep thinking we have a better chance to get composition of asteroids / comets from spectra of rocks running into jupiter than trying to get a probe mission there. Does anyone know if it’s possible to get good spectra from that or is there too much atmosphere and general jovian system junk floating around? I’m thinking a little spectroscope that could stare at jupiter all day/ night…

  67. Toño

    Hi! Today I saw a picture about Jupiter thas was taken in Australia, Why Jupiter is upsidedown in that image? This is the link: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/07/090721-jupiter-impact-spot.html

  68. Tonio

    Today I saw a picture about Jupiter thas was taken in Australia, Why Jupiter is upsidedown in that image? This is the link: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/07/090721-jupiter-impact-spot.html

  69. @Tonio
    Which way is the right way up?

  70. Deepak

    Surprising that NASA didn’t see the approaching object……….

  71. i saw and i thought that which way is right one .

  72. @Deepak
    Not really. Unless they happened to have something pointed in the right direction previously they wouldn’t know. Shoemaker-Levy was a known object and had been tracked (AFAIK) so everybody was watchin’ and waitin’ for it to go in. I dunno, but there maybe millions of unknown objects out there big enough to make a splash.

  73. Tonio

    Let me explain my question. There is no right way up or down, my question is not in that sense. It is assumed that the red spot is in the southern hemisphere of Jupiter. Why in this photograph Jupiter is the reverse of how we see it from the northern hemisphere of the earth? Is that how we see Jupiter from Australia (ie, from the Southern Hemisphere of the Earth) or it’s a printing error in the photograph? I think this also happens with the moon phases which are inverted from the southern hemisphere of the Earth, isn’t it? Thank in advance for your answer.

  74. I think North and South are more or less conventions. Correct me if I’m wrong an unless the little diagram I drew myself is wrong Jupiter would look upside from the southern hemisphere. So the black spot would be at the top as seen from down here… unless the telescope inverts the image or not.

  75. Doug

    Amusement. I heard somebody say this proves Jupiter, like Pluto, is not actually a planet. That’s because it hasn’t “cleared its orbit” of debris yet.

    But seriously, kind of, with its huge mass big Jupe is a vacuum cleaner of the solar system. It sucks. I mean that in a good way. What is remarkable is that we haven’t seen MORE impacts than this and S-L9. We probably will now with people on the alert.

  76. Tonio

    The point I want to get is this: people living in Australia and Argentina watch the planets in a different way as those who live in Mexico or Russia? Once I read an astronomy book and it said that moon phases are inverted if we look them from Chile or New Zealand, aren’t they? ¿Is that the same with planets? Thanks again.

  77. Yes, I believe the phases of the moon will be upside down from the other hemisphere.

    The following website has a pretty good summary of what we can see from down in the Southern Hemisphere…

  78. Another Eric S

    @71. Chris A.

    Much obliged. Look at that, you *do* learn something new every day.

  79. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    this proves Jupiter, like Pluto, is not actually a planet. That’s because it hasn’t “cleared its orbit” of debris yet.

    So did that person have evidence of that the remaining material masses more than Jupiter itself, thus failing the clearance condition?

    @ dhtroy:

    I’m curious, just how much science do we collect and learn from impacts like this one on Jupiter? I realize we have to learn something, I’m just wondering, “what”, exactly.

    I’m not an expert, but I assume it would be possible to glean information about density and composition of lower atmospheric layers, see Chris A. description of “producing a plume shooting back the way the impactor came.” (# 71.)

  80. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ dhtroy:

    Actually, there is a UT article that says:

    By using the full set of Gemini images taken over a range of wavelengths from 8 to 18 microns, the team will be able to disentangle the effects of temperature, ammonia abundance, and upper atmospheric aerosol content. Comparing these Gemini observations with past and future images will permit the team to study the evolution of features as Jupiter’s strong winds disperse them.


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