BREAKING: Another Jupiter impact?

By Phil Plait | June 3, 2010 5:58 pm

[Update 3 (June 4, 16:00 UT): I have a followup post with a very pretty color picture, and video of the impact event.]

[UPDATE 2: Wesley has put up his video, and it’s very cool. The impact is, um, pretty obvious. Bright, too, which makes me think this was a significant object. I’m very surprised at how quickly it brightens and fades, though; I’d expect the flash from the object itself to last a few seconds, and then to see some sort of glowing plume. Perhaps the object itself was a small comet or a loosely packed asteroid — a so-called "rubble pile " — which fell apart and vaporized while still high in the atmosphere. I’m guessing, so I’ll wait and see what the experts say soon.]

[Update (19:00 Mountain time): CONFIRMED! A poster on the Unmanned Space Flight forum reports that another amateur astronomer, Christopher Go (link goes to home page, no news there yet) has confirmed Anthony Wesley’s observation and also has video. Though I’m having some trouble playing it, I did see the flash in the video. I think it’s safe to call this one real!]

In what turns out to be a major coincidence, Anthony Wesley, an amateur astronomer in Australia, is reporting that he recorded another impact on Jupiter! This time he has video of the impact, which he claims was quite bright and lasted about two seconds. The video is not yet available, but here’s a still:

wesley_jupiter_june32010

He reports that there is no obvious impact scar as in previous such events. If this pans out, I’m sure Hubble and many other observatories will be in a big hurry to get observations! Infrared images are of particular interest, since they can record the heat from the blast.

This really is a funny coincidence, since just this morning the news was released that the 2009 impact — also discovered by Wesley — was caused by an asteroid impact. This new event appears to be smaller, since it didn’t get as bright as the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts in 1994, which were also of the same magnitude as the 2009 event.

I’ve started contacting folks I know to see if anyone has more info on this. Hopefully we’ll be getting the big guns involved as soon as possible! Stay tuned.

Tip o’ the Whipple Shield to Dan Durda for letting me know about this!

Comments (83)

  1. Dean

    Sucks to be Jupiter.

  2. Donovan

    Sounds to me like this guy Wesley is shooting stuff at Jupiter… Just sayin’

  3. From this photo, it looks like the impact occurred near the area in which the “missing” belt would normally be. I wonder whether that will make it easier or harder to detect a scar?

  4. Mark

    If we are _seeing_ one impact a year [?] doesn’t this suggest that a LOT more impacts are happening that we don’t chance to observe?

    Is it reasonable to suspect that some large object may have fragmented recently and these impacts are the result?

    Or have there always been this many impacts but random chance has happened that we’ve seldom seen them?

    Or is it possible there is something odd going on with the solar system in general right now?

  5. MadScientist

    What was an asteroid doing out there? I wonder how it was worked out that it was an asteroid and not something else – like the TARDIS.

    Obviously Anthony is using some Juju there – coincidence? Of course not, everyone knows that two individual low probability events occurring makes for an impossible event – ask any prosecutor.

  6. Levi in NY

    Yo, Jupiter, we’re not playing Katamari Damacy here!

  7. Jeff in Tucson

    @Dean: Sucks to be these asteroids. FTFY

  8. Fritriac

    Thanks Jupiter for NOMing all that shiat. Better that big guy than earth!

  9. llewelly

    This is not an impact. It is a launch. The Jovians have launched an interplanetary probe, which will travel to travel to the Earth system, examine the world and its Moons, and then crash into the planet in order to avoid the risk of contaminating any of its moons with Jovian life.

  10. HP

    A “major coincidence,” you say? That’s gotta mean something!

  11. Bigfoot

    The Onion headline:

    “Jupiter a Hit With Asteroids, Comets”

  12. Fox News headline:

    “Obama Fails to Stop Jupiter Asteroid Strike”

  13. Paul

    This is why I read BA! :)

  14. If we are _seeing_ one impact a year [?] doesn’t this suggest that a LOT more impacts are happening that we don’t chance to observe?

    It’s possible, but I suspect that Jupiter is observed often enough these days that it’s unlikely we’re missing a lot of them.

    Is it reasonable to suspect that some large object may have fragmented recently and these impacts are the result?

    Not really that likely, given the previous event was several months ago.

    Or have there always been this many impacts but random chance has happened that we’ve seldom seen them?

    See above.

    Or is it possible there is something odd going on with the solar system in general right now?

    Nope. You’re just experiencing the typical human desire to seek order and meaning out of what are really just coincidental and random events.

    :-)

  15. Kurt_eh

    If there’s a flash in the video will it be seen on iPad/podtouch/phone? ;) :P

    All kidding aside, awesome!

  16. Soccer Mate

    “Nope. You’re just experiencing the typical human desire to seek order and meaning out of what are really just coincidental and random events”.

    Mr Dreamer- I guess you are some authority on this subject? Then you should help us develop better probability models- instead of the current one which suggests something to the order of one in a billion billion number. I dont seek any unknown’s just better facts- which some humanity claims privilege on.

  17. Wonder if someone could plot the trajectory of these planetary impacts so we can find out who has saved our asses from a Dino like burn out. I bet we owe a few planets a beer for doing us a celestial solid.

  18. alfaniner

    Scary that this can happen so “often”, and with little clue to it approaching.

  19. There’s intelligent life out there, and by the looks of it, it has laser pointers!

  20. Mark

    >”the typical human desire to seek order and meaning out of what are really just coincidental and random events”

    If a planet slows down or speeds up in its orbit we don’t assume those changes are just coincidental and random changes to the planet’s speed. We assume there is another planet out there and the gravity of that second planet is interacting with the first planet causing it to slow down or speed up.

    The desire to see cause and effect isn’t a quaint psychological quirk. It’s an interest in astrophysics.

    If the number of impacts visible on Jupiter has changed from none, to once in a lifetime, and then to once every ten years, and then to once a year, that COULD BE random fluctuation. Or it could be an indication that something was perturbed somewhere and we are seeing the consequences. Time–and observations and calculations–will tell.

  21. Here’s the link to Wesley’s page on the event, including video: http://jupiter.samba.org/jupiter/20100603-203129-impact/index.html

  22. wee willie winkie

    Really great that everyone can comprehend the solar system from a 70 yr perspective.

  23. I just think it’s reaching to think that there might be “something odd going on” on the strength of two asteroid strikes on Jupiter that were months apart.

    When two volcanoes erupted around the same time a few days ago, I saw some people on another forum speaking ominously about the possibility that “something odd was going on,” even though they are a thousand mile apart and both volcanoes have actually be active for at least the last few years, so there are always a reasonable chance that they would both have a spurt in activity at the same time eventually.

    When you only have two impacts, months apart, to go on, there really is not reason to assume that it’s anything more than chance. The only thing you can do is perhaps rule out the possibility that they could be from the same, larger object that broke up, but I doubt even that can be done with any certainty.

    Now, if you start seeing more impacts in the months ahead, then you would be excused for thinking that there could be a connection, a common cause, but I still don’t think there would be any reason to suspect something “odd” was going on — unless you mean that they are all from an asteroid or comet that was torn apart in Jupiter’s gravity well. But that’s not really odd, it’s expected to happen from time to time, as with SL9.

    I didn’t mean to raise any hackles with the comment.

  24. silence

    There’s another possible explanation for seeing a lot of impacts: electronics has improved to the point that amateurs can spot them, record them, and share the observation with each other for confirmation. This makes for a much higher percentage of impacts being spotted, confirmed, and discussed. We saw this effect with lunar impacts a few years ago.

  25. I made an image superimposing a circle the size of the impact flash onto the USA: http://imgur.com/xeRzx.jpg

    The radius of the flash in that image is 2102km. Give or take.

  26. Messier Tidy Upper

    Wow! 8)

    Didn’t we used to think such impacts were an incredibly rare event?

    Now two in two years – do we still think they’re that rare?

    That is awesome – and discovered by an Aussie again too! :-)

  27. Mark

    >silence: “electronics has improved to the point that amateurs can spot them, record them, and share the observation with each other for confirmation”

    Yes. That’s the most reasonable explanation. But remember a few months ago the Hubble captured that odd asteroid or asteroid collision in the belt–Hubble telescope captures the moment two asteroids collide 90 million miles from Earth. It is much more fun to speculate that something may have perturbed the asteroid belt (or the Kuiper belt and then into the inner system) and we might be observing a scattering of small objects with Jupiter—as the largest planet—showing the most visible effects of the scattering. It will be interesting to see if more impacts are observed, and if anything is observed anywhere else.

  28. Dr Cy Coe

    On Wesley’s video Phil comments: I’m very surprised at how quickly it brightens and fades, though.

    Does it really fade quickly? I’m asking since I don’t see anything indicating how much time passes in this video. The length is 24s yes, but that needn’t be the same amount of time that is being captured. Perhaps this can be determined by the speed at which Jupiter is seen to be rotating in the video, but I’m just too lazy.. :)

  29. DCJD

    Hope it wasnt a Dense Veldspar

  30. Pi-needles

    @6. MadScientist Says:

    What was an asteroid doing out there? I wonder how it was worked out that it was an asteroid and not something else – like the TARDIS.

    Or, more likely, a wrecked Shadow vessel from Babylon 5 that flew to its destruction chasing the White Star – a dark spot indeed! ;-)

    The Doctor has been to Pluto (Tom Baker), Saturn – or at least some of its moons eg. “Voga” (Tom Baker), Mars (several incl. Tom Baker and David Tennant) and Venus (John Pertwee -Venusian ju-jitsu or something ..) but not Jupiter as far as I recall .. ;-)

  31. Mike
  32. OK, let’s play devil’s advocate here. Since there is (so far) no visible impact scar, could it have been…

    1. A reflective “flare” from a foreground object?
    2. A really big bolt of lightning?
    3. Launch of first Jovian scout ship for invasion of Saturn? (llewelly)
    4. Jovian kids with laser pointers? (Martin)

    I don’t think any of these are very likely, and impact is the best hypothesis so far, but does anyone else have any ideas?

  33. Jeff Lock

    @36 Sean
    A Jovian boy scout flashing at us with his signalling mirror??

  34. XPT

    Re: something odd going on

    I doubt it: as Phil explained several times, we are getting so tecnologically advanced that we have cameras all around the earth (many meteors spotted), Mars ans Moon (recent impacts were detected on the surface), and good amateur astronomers can basically monitor the planets for big events like this one.

    The solar system is scattered with rocks, and we have to thank Jupiter if we haven’t been obliterated YET, and on the other hand dinosaurs WERE, letting mammals take over.

  35. Firemancarl

    Maybe Jupiter is starting 2012 early.

  36. Anchor

    People (like the exceptional amateur Anthony Wesley) are watching Jupiter every chance they get, and they’re capturing images with res quality that would have been the envy of professional astronomers just a few short generations ago. What was once deemed a “rare event” certainly WAS, once upon a time – but rare in the sense that such OBSERVATIONS were rare. For Jupiter, it evidently appears it is NOT that terribly rare.

    With the constant surveillance by amateurs in concert with affordable instruments and cameras made possible by digital technology, these impact events become noticed. Since the Comet Shoemaker-Levy impacts, the true frequency of major impacts on Jupiter appears to be slowly revealing itself. Jupiter is a massive planet with a dominating gravitational field, as well as a very large target in terms of available surface area.(Remember, the Solar System basically consists of “Jupiter plus debris”). Add to that the fact it is situated just beyond the asteroid belt which provides plenty of potential impactors, and we can now appreciate that Jupiter must be undergoing a steady drizzle of impacts – many of which are large enough to be detected (and even recorded as “movies”, not only by Wesley but another exceptional amateur Christopher Go in the Philppines). This state of affairs reminds me of how skeptical many astronomers were of proposals made by a daring few (among them amateurs) to attempt to record impacts on the dark hemisphere of the Moon as we crossed through meteor shower streams like the Leonids. But it was absolutely certain that nobody would know if that was possible until somebody actually looked. Sure enough, it WAS possible – and those observing programs have since become routine.

    What floors me is not only have (at least!) TWO observers now actually WITNESSED an entering fireball, but that it struck smack dab in the belt region that has just recently been overcast by the high ammonia cirrus. (Anybody notice how noticeably brighter Jupiter appears to the naked eye lately?) That circumstance might mask much if any of the dark splotch we’ve come to expect in the aftermath of major impacts on Jupiter, such as those produced by the Shoemaker-Levy impacts and last year’s event. It’s possible that if the impactor penetrated deeply enough into the atmosphere before disintegrating entirely – punching through the high ammonia cirrus before its terminal explosion – much of the dust from the impactor might be screened by that overlying cirrus. Time will tell as Jupiter keeps rolling around on its swift 9.8-hour day, but I sure hope the Hubble is available to check out whether there is some mark (perhaps noticeable in the near-infrared) at the appropriate longitude there…

    BTW, Dean & Donovan: HILARIOUS!!!

  37. Peter

    I admit to be ignorant on anything relevant. But is there a possibility that the two events, if confirmed, are related? A rubble pile being torn to smaller bits by tidal forces a long time ago? The bits raining down now? Rubble-piles are gravitaionally bound, right? So I guess it doesn’t take a lot of tidal force to tear them apart. Which would mean that the break up starts when the rubble pile is still a long way away from Jupiter.

    Sorry.

  38. Anchor

    Peter asks, “is there a possibility that the two events, if confirmed, are related?”

    If you are referring to a relationship between yesterday’s impact and the one last year, the answer is “probably not”. Jupiter takes 11.86 earth-years to complete an orbit around the Sun. The impact event last July ocurred more than ten months before yesterday’s fireball. That means that Jupiter has advanced roughly about a tenth of its circuit around the Sun, which at Jupiter’s distance from the Sun translates to almost 500 million kilometers between the two dates. Although it is barely conceivable that a common progenitor might have split into (at least two) major bodies via tidal forces (ala comet Shoemaker-Levy) to produce these impacts (if the two resulting fragments happened to have been caught in an extremely eccentric orbit with a period of roughly ten months or so) these very circumstances makes it much more unlikely that the two events would have been due to a common progenitor object.

  39. Peter

    @Anchor

    Well, yes, but that assumes the two events are indepenent. Suppose a long(?) time ago a rubble pile was captured in Jupiters’s grav field. Got torn apart early on and the bits started spiralling inwards?

    (Ducks and covers)

  40. Phil, WMV files are notoriously difficult to get to play on a Mac. I think you need a 3rd party software. I assume you’re using a Mac! WMV is a windows media format, so the reasons for the difficulty are obvious. :)

    I see a youtube link on here so that should have you set.

  41. Anchor

    @ Peter: No, no, don’t be shy. Your question is a GOOD one! ;) I was going to elaborate my answer before my editing time elapsed: this is what I intended to add before I got cut off:

    “Although it is barely conceivable that a common progenitor might have split into (at least two) major bodies via tidal forces (ala comet Shoemaker-Levy) to produce these impacts (if the two resulting fragments happened to have been caught in an extremely eccentric orbit around Jupiter with a period of roughly ten months or so) these very circumstances make it that much more unlikely that the two events would have been due to a common progenitor object. Chances are these were independent impactors. To be sure, there are plenty of projectiles floating around out there near the outer perimeter of the asteroid belt that makes it easy for Jupiter to get pummeled at random by fresh objects. In order to make the case for a common progenitor, pre-impact trajectory information would be necessary. Unfortunately, I do not know of any such pre-impact trajectory data on last year’s event. That dark blotch suddenly appeared out of the blue, with most observers inferring that the impact must have taken place out of sight on Jupiter’s night side, which only revealed itself when it rolled into view. Now, in terms of finding a potential orbital correlation, the LATITUDE roughly matches for a common progenitor, but the fact that last year’s event probably ocurred on the night side of Jupiter facing away from the Sun is not that good a match for yesterday’s event, which occurred on the sun-facing side. It remains to be seen whether any pre-impact trajectory information emerges on either of these impactors. Unless that happens, it’s virtually impossible to settle the issue one way or the other”.

  42. An observing friend last night mentioned that he had not been able to see Jupiter’s lower equatorial belt recently — but now I’ve checked and see this was in the press a couple of weeks ago: http://www.astronomy.com/asy/default.aspx?c=a&id=9850

    I wonder whehther this is related to the impacts.

  43. Steve

    Has Richard Hoagland had a chance to comment on this yet? I’m sure we’ll hear how Jupiter’s going to collapse and become a new star because of these impacts. ;)

  44. Rob Specht

    There was no plume or debris in the atmosphere after the explosion? Clearly it was a UFO :)

  45. Peter

    @Anchor

    Thank you for your elaborate answer. Learned something from it.

    And well, let more data come in. Go rocks! You rock!

  46. meg

    Its just some young jupiter scallywags celebrating the local newyear, with fusion-crackers and such…

  47. “We take you now to Carl Phillips, speaking with Professor Pearson at the Princeton Observatory…”

  48. @53:

    An observing friend last night mentioned that he had not been able to see Jupiter’s lower equatorial belt recently — but now I’ve checked and see this was in the press a couple of weeks ago: *link redacted*

    I wonder whehther this is related to the impacts.

    Very doubtful as this just occurred yesterday, and the SEB disappeared sometime when Jupiter was behind the sun from our perspective. It emerged several weeks ago which is when the SEB disappearance was noted.

  49. An observing friend last night mentioned that he had not been able to see Jupiter’s lower equatorial belt recently.

    I wonder whether this is related to the impacts.

    No, there is not a chance of that being the case. The asteroids are simply way too small to have that kind of global impact on a planet the size of Jupiter.

  50. Or is it possible there is something odd going on with the solar system in general right now?

    There is something very big going on, but I am sworn to secrecy, so I cannot reveal what it is. But I am negotiating with a major tabloid to sell my story, so the world will soon know what… NO! GAA! PLEASE, STOP! (sob… tell my wife I love her)

  51. Is it not obvious that these impacts are do to the approach of Nibiru?

  52. John G.

    Clearly it is debris from the Betelgeuse supernova. :-)

  53. @ Ralph:

    You are obviously making that up, as something that big would have been predicted by Billy Meier and described in a video sold by Mikey Horn.

  54. Buzz Parsec

    I think they must be caused by vaccines. Or lack of pirates. Or something.

  55. cgray

    MSNBC headline: Our Lord and Savior Barack Hussein Obama farts and causes Jupiter to emit light. Democrats everywhere celebrate by cashing their welfare checks and trading their foodstamps for beer and cigarettes. And also by mocking Christians and people who actually work for a living.

  56. Christian

    I believe the most important reason for the observation of more impacts on Jupiter is the availablitily of webcams to the community of amateur astronomers.
    We should compare what is happening with Jupiter observations with what is happening with the observation of the Sun. Thanks to SOHO, we discovered that comets fall in the Sun very frequently.
    I guess that most of the Jupiter impacts where not observed before the 1990’s due to lack of proper observation tools and lack of “scars” on the planet. I mean, most propbably, most of the impactors don’t leave any dark traces on the planet and go unnoticed if the flash of the impact has not been recorded.

  57. MSNBC headline: Our Lord and Savior Barack Hussein Obama farts and causes Jupiter to emit light. Democrats everywhere celebrate by cashing their welfare checks and trading their foodstamps for beer and cigarettes. And also by mocking Christians and people who actually work for a living.

    Wow…bitter much?

  58. Wow.Just.Wow

    Wow. It’s funny how everyone seems to be experts on the solar system. When your life span is probably 70-90 years at best, and the solar system has been around for thousands & probably thousands of years. With that knowledge, when you compare how many years we’ve studied the solar system, and how long it’s been in existence, or how long we have known about it, I think it’s safe to say that we know nothing about it really. We aren’t even at the tip of the iceberg. We haven’t made a dent in all the facts there is to know about the solar system & here we are argueing about it, for what? Pride? Ignorance? Self-gratitude? C’mon people…really? it’s nothing to argue about. Dicussing is one thing, but it gets to a point of being rediculous. WE have surpassed that point. He made a video & posted it. Yay. Now let’s let people who possibly know what they are talking about, do their job without the interference of some people who assume, that what they read on the internet is gospel. No offense to anyone, because I am for sure one person that is intrigued by the planets, but knows hardly anything about them.

  59. A Jovian boy scout flashing at us with his signalling mirror??

  60. Bassett

    Could something be erupting from Jupiter

  61. Gregory V Henley

    CNN reports
    …this just in from the White house:
    “Bush did it”

  62. @ wow:

    When your life span is probably 70-90 years at best, and the solar system has been around for thousands & probably thousands of years

    Well, you certainly don’t know much of anything. “thousands of years”? Try billions.

    And some of us like exchanging ideas back and forth and speculating about what the outcome of scientific investigations will be. Just because you are not involved, and prefer to sit back and let others “do their jobs,” does not mean the rest of us have to be as well.

  63. Lascas

    @ wow:

    “When your life span is probably 70-90 years at best, and the solar system has been around for thousands & probably thousands of years”

    You made my day.
    Actually reading this discussion was as interesting as the event itself, i did learn quite a bit from ppl that know more than me, and had some laugh from ppl, like me, that have a good sense of humor.
    Its a shame you cant understand what ppl here are saying, so i have to support your own words, “let’s let people who possibly know what they are talking about, do their job” and ask you to follow your own advice and let the rest of us proceed with the discussion.

    Thank you.

    Regarding the topic, i dont have anything to add, like others before me, i blame the zerg of webcams pointing at the sky. Interesting times are coming, there will be much more to see, much more to learn. Also, like someone said before me, show me a hit on mars or venus, thats what i really wanna see, thats where we will learn the most ^^

    PS: it was definitely a cylon base star.

  64. Colleen M. Boyd

    to #30 – wow!! to your pic.

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