Jupiter, the biggest planet in the solar system, has been known to raise curiosity among all, not just for its massive size but for unique phenomenon like the Great Red Spot. However, this time the planet has caught the attention of astronomers over something impacting its upper atmosphere.
Amateur astronomer José Luis Pereira from Brazil got a glimpse of a rare event as he discovered an impact on the gas giant on September 13. He searched for more flashes on the planet with DeTeCt software, a tool used to check for planetary impact events. The programme beamed a high probability of a collision.
According to Sky & Telescope, if confirmed, it would be the eighth recorded impact at Jupiter, since the first in July 1994, when fragments of sundered Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slammed into the planet. The latest impact was captured at latitude 5.5° and longitude 105.7° (System I / L1), 83.3° (System II / L2), and 273.4° (System III / L3).
Astronomer Ethan Chappel from Texas had in 2019 observed a meteor crash into Jupiter with his Celestron 8 telescope spotting a flash of light in the planet’s South Equatorial Belt (SEB). The previous such impact was spotted in 2017 when Sauveur Pedranghelu, a French amateur from Corsica, detected an impact on the planet’s polar region.
Shoemaker-Levy 9’s death plunge into Jupiter
The first such impact to be ever seen and recorded from Earth on the biggest planet of the solar system was Shoemaker-Levy 9 that in 1994 took a death plunge on the gas giant. According to Nasa, when the comet was first discovered in 1993, it had already broken off into 20 pieces travelling around Jupiter in a two-year orbit.
The disruption of the comet into multiple fragments was rare, but the biggest and rarest revelation was that the fragments were going to smash into Jupiter. In a bid to understand the dangerous tidal forces of the planet that were going to kill the comet, Nasa had trained spacecraft in position to watch for the first time in history a collision between two bodies in the solar system.
Fragment of Shoemaker Levy 9 before hitting into Jupiter seen by Hubble Space Telescope. (Photo: Nasa)
The fragments smashed into Jupiter with the force of 300 million atomic bombs created huge plumes that were 2,000 to 3,000 kilometers high and heated the atmosphere to temperatures as high as 30,000 to 40,000 degrees Celsius. The impact left dark, ringed scars that were eventually erased by Jupiter’s winds.
Such impact events reveal crucial details about the surface they hit, just as by studying Shoemaker-Levy 9 scientists were able to track high-altitude winds on Jupiter for the first time that emerged from the impact. By comparing changes in the magnetosphere with changes in the atmosphere following the impact, scientists were able to study the relationship between them.
Scientists believe that these kinds of collisions were more frequent in the early Solar System, and that comet impacts were probably the main way that elements other than hydrogen and helium got to Jupiter.