Jupiter Collision September 2012

The video above shows the impact on Jupiter, as captured by George Hall of Dallas.

Jupiter is the solar system’s ‘vacuum cleaner’, its colossal gravity beckons potentially dangerous rogue comets or asteroids in its direction to a crushing death in the Jovian clouds. This is very good news for Earth as Jupiter, the king of the gas giants serves as a very effective protector from any nasty comet or asteroid impacts on Earth. It’s much better admiring the devastation on far away Jupiter 446 million miles away, than something slightly more unpleasant. Although our gassy friend doesn’t stop all space rocks, as the dinosaurs will rightly tell you.

Way back in July 1994 the world observed a spectacular impact on Jupiter from Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. This was a chain of 21 mountain sized pieces that were originally a single object. It was thought that Jupiter’s immense gravity went to work on the comet, pulling it apart into pieces when it passed close by Jupiter 2 years before in July 1992. This pass was inside Jupiter’s roche limit, so the tidal forces were too much for the icy body and it broke apart. This chain of huge comet fragments slammed into Jupiter’s atmosphere at speeds of 134,000 miles per hour, creating black scars that lasted for months.

Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact scars

Screenshot from an animation showing Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact scars

Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was the first direct sighting of a collision between solar system objects, and impacts on Jupiter such as this were originally thought to be quite rare. Now they’re known to be fairly common, recently with two in 2010, and a dark spot from an impact in July 2009. Most times though the impacts are from smaller asteroids, although visible flashes can be observed on Jupiter from objects only tens of metres in diameter.

On the 10th of September 2012 an amateur astronomer spotted a bright flash on the north equatorial belt’s southern section, as something piled into the cloud tops creating a bright fireball.  Eagle eyed Dan Peterson of Racine, Wisconsin was the first to see the impact while he was observing the gas giant with his Meade 12 inch LX200 telescope, seeing a flash that lasted only 1.5 to 2 seconds in duration.

George Hall of Dallas, Texas captured the impact (top), as he was filming the planet with his video camera.

This particular impact did not make a distinctive scar or mark easily visible on the atmosphere of Jupiter.

John Brady

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