An amateur star-gazer in Australia yesterday witnessed that a massive object – probably as large as the Earth – crashed into Jupiter. Co-incidentally, the discovery was made on the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, and exactly 15 years after the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit Jupiter.
Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) followed up on a tip from amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley and, using NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility at the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, found that a new dark "scar" had suddenly appeared on Jupiter yesterday
New infrared images show the likely impact point was near the south polar region, with a visibly dark "scar" and bright upwelling particles in the upper atmosphere detected in near-infrared wavelengths, and a warming of the upper troposphere with possible extra emission from ammonia gas detected at mid-infrared wavelengths.
"We were extremely lucky to be seeing Jupiter at exactly the right time, the right hour, the right side of Jupiter to witness the event. We couldn't have planned it better," says Glenn Orton, a scientist at JPL.
"It could be the impact of a comet, but we don't know for sure yet," said Orton. "It's been a whirlwind of a day, and this on the anniversary of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 and Apollo anniversaries is amazing."
Shoemaker-Levy 9 was a comet that had been seen to break into many pieces before the pieces hit Jupiter in 1994.
Leigh Fletcher, a NASA postdoctoral fellow at JPL who worked with Orton during these latest observations, comments: "Given the rarity of these events, it's extremely exciting to be involved in these observations. These are the most exciting observations I've seen in my five years of observing the outer planets."