A massive meteor appears to have recently crashed into Jupiter — and it was big enough to be seen by an amateur astronomer here on Earth. Ethan Chappel captured the rare moment with nothing more than a backyard telescope.
Chappel recorded a bright, unexpected flash on the surface of the gas giant Wednesday. Astronomers believe it could have been the impact of a large meteor crashing into the planet.
Chappel compiled the images into a gif showing the apparent moment of impact with a bright flash in the Southern Equatorial Belt. The flash only lasts a moment before fading, further fueling the idea of a possible meteor.
Dr. Heidi B. Hammel shared Chappel’s findings with excitement. “Another impact on Jupiter today!” Hammel wrote. “A bolide (meteor) and not likely to leave dark debris like SL9 did 25 years ago.”
The other impact Hammel is referring to occurred when fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter in 1994, leaving dramatic scars that were visible for months. Hammel led the team that studied its impact and Jupiter’s response to it using the Hubble Space Telescope.
There have been several apparent impacts since, including in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2016. Amateur astronomers have been able to make videos of Jupiter and then assess them for quality, looking for flashes like this, Hammel told CBS News.
“These impacts are important to us because they help us understand the population of small objects still winging around our Solar System,” Hammel said. “We are especially interested in the ones winging around near the Earth, of course, but the events out at Jupiter provide new data for our models of Solar System objects.”
Hammel said Wednesday’s impact — which still needs to be confirmed by other astronomers — appears to be smaller than the impact in 2012 and similar to the one in 2010.
“Today has felt completely unreal to me,” Chappel wrote on Twitter. “Hoping someone else also recorded the impact to seal the deal.”
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