Jupiter Seems To Have Just Been Smacked By Something Pretty Big

By Eric Mack, Contributor
383787 02: The solar system's largest moon, Ganymede, is captured here alongside the planet Jupiter in this picture taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, December 3, 2000. Ganymede is larger than the planets Mercury and Pluto and Saturn's largest moon, Titan. Both Ganymede and Titan have greater surface area than the entire Eurasian continent on our planet. Cassini was 26.5 million kilometers (16.5 million miles) from Ganymede when this image was taken. The smallest visible features are about 160 kilometers (about 100 miles) across. (Photo courtesy of NASA/Newsmakers) Getty Images

The largest planet in our solar system is a pretty easy target, what with all its gargantuan mass and gravity. It looks like something likely gave up its very existence to try to make a dent in Jupiter, but when you’re dealing with a gas giant that’s a pretty tough task.

Instead the large asteroid, or small comet or who-knows-what generated a bright flash that was picked up by Brazilian astronomer José Luis Pereira on Monday.

“Not a lot of info on the impacting object yet but it’s likely to be large and/or fast!” the European Space Agency said on Twitter Tuesday.

Jupiter is no stranger to this kind of abuse.

A similar flash was detected first by an amateur astronomer in August of 2019, the latest in a relatively long history of impacts.

You can also find observations online of Jupiter strikes from 2018, 2016, 2012, 2010 and 2009.

Of course, the most famous instance of battering the big planet probably dates back to the 1990s when the comet Shoemaker-Levy fragmented and slammed in to Jupiter in June of 1994.

Comet P/Shoemaker-Levy 9, taken by Hubble Space Telescope's Planetary Camera-2 in wide field mode. The comet collided with the planet Jupiter in July 1994. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images) Corbis via Getty Images

It seems unlikely that what hit Jupiter this week will come close to measuring up to that cometary collision, but astronomers are currently busy reviewing observations of the planet for clues.

If we never get more details on this impact, don’t worry: we’re sure to see more in the not-too-distant future.


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