Astronomers Have Just Captured Footage of A Celestial Object Exploding On The Side of Jupiter
This month on March 17, an Austrian astronomer named Gerrit Kernbauer was taking video of Jupiter from his telescope in hopes that he might capture something noteworthy…he got a bit more than he was expecting
At 18:33 UTC the video that Gerrit was taking appeared to capture the impact of what is most likely a comet or asteroid into it’s upper right side! (it might help to change the playback speed to 1/2):
Phil Plait of Bad Astronomey stated that the asteroid or comet wasn’t very large, most likely measuring only a few hundred feet in diameter. He noted that it’s not the size of the object that counts though. Jupiter is a huge planet with an incredibly strong gravitational pull. The object that slammed into it would have been accelerating extremely rapidly. This in turn would release an unbelievable amount of kinetic energy on impact.
On average (and ignoring orbital velocity), an object will hit Jupiter with roughly five times the velocity it hits Earth, so the impact energy is 25 times as high. The asteroid that burned up over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 was 19 meters across, and it exploded with the energy of 500,000 tons of TNT.
Now multiply that by 25, and you can see how it doesn’t take all that big a rock to hit Jupiter for us to be able to see it from Earth.
Incidentally, at these huge speeds, hitting the atmosphere is like slamming into a wall. A lot of people get understandably confused how an asteroid can explode due to air, but the pressures involved as it rams through the atmosphere at these speeds are ridiculously huge. The air and rock heat up, the rock starts to fall apart, and each chunk then gets hot, and so on, creating a very rapid cascade that releases the energy of motion in just a second or two.
Phil also noted that to confirm this impact, a second video would be needed as it could be a lens flair or error with the telescope….well guess what, another video has surface coming from Ireland which confirms this impact! See below.
This is not the first time we’ve seen Jupiter get struck by an object, but it’s not a frequent occurrence. It’s been hit in 1994, 2010 and 2012. Phil Plait states that the planet gets hit by something big enough to see from Earth about once a year, it’s just a matter of us capturing it.