Another fireball on Jupiter?

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An amateur astronomer reported the visual detection of a fireball on Jupiter at 11:35 UT (September 10 2012) last night. It was confirmed on a video recorded from Texas. This is the 6th impact of Jupiter detected so far.

A screen capture from the video recorded on September 10 2012 at 11:35 UT by George. The video was captured with a 12" LX200GPS, 3x Televue Barlow, and Point Grey Flea 3 camera. http://georgeastro.weebly.com/jupiter.html

Astronomer Dan Petersen saw today September 10 2012 at  11:35 UT a bright flash on Jupiter which lasted 1 or 2 seconds. It estimated its position to be in the system I Longitude = 335 and Latitude = +12 deg. The report was sent to Richard Schmude of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (ALPO) and forwarded to us by John H. Rogers, Jupiter Section Director at the British Astronomical Association.

A video of the flash was revealed a few hours later by George Hall, an amateur astronomer located in Dallas Texas. He used a webcam mounted on a MEADE 12″ LX200GPS. An image extracted from the video is attached above and it looks quite similar to the flash observed on August 20 2010.

This is the 6th impact observed on Jupiter. The most famous one was the predicted, and intensively observed, impact of the comet Shoemaeker-Levy 9 (S-L 9) which broke apart and collide on Jupiter in July 1994. An fireball was photographed by Voyager 1 during its encounter on March 1979 with Jupiter.  More recently, thanks to the intensive monitoring of  amateur astronomer and the improvement in image quality providing by cheap webcam plugged on small telescopes, several small impacts were detected and followed up by amateur and professional astronomers together:

  • I reported in this blog the July 19 2009  impact which was followed up by our team using adaptive optics systems on various large telescopes including Keck-10m, TNG-3.6m,  and the VLT-8m. That was a fun moment in my career which leads to a large international collaboration and this scientific article.
  • Anthony Wesley, an Australian amateur astronomer saw a flash at 4:31 p.m. (EDT) on June 3 2010. Images collected a few days after using the Hubble Space Telescope did not reveal the presence of scar or debris
  • In August 20 2010, a third flash was reported by Masayuki Tachikawa, amateur astronomer from Kumamoto city, Japan. I did not find anywhere a follow-up of this meteor impact.

Because the impactors were small (a few meters) the 2010 impacts were not big explosions driving a giant plume, as we have seen for S-L 9 and the 2009 impact. The absence of scar, or “black spots” on Jupiter, observed for the 2010 events implies that there was no debris field, so they were most likely just meteors. To characterize the type of impact that was observed a few hours ago, the area of the impact will be monitored using large facilities. If a scar is detected in the visible light, it will be definitely an interesting event which will be followed up by amateurs and professional astronomers.

These impacts or meteors are not only a distraction for planetary astronomers. They give us an opportunity to better understand the internal structure of Jupiter since the energetic ones reveal the lower deck of clouds and provide clues on its composition. Additionally, the complex pattern of jet stream winds at various latitudes can be also directly measured by monitoring the evolution of a scar over a long period of time like it was done for the 2009 impact.

It is also a way to assess the rate of large meteoroid impacts on the planets and understand the role of Jupiter in shielding the inner part of the solar system. This idea remains controversial (see Jupiter: Friend or Foe?) and a direct measurements of the flux of meteors and impact rate may help to provide a better answer to this question.

Finally, even if this  flash ends up being “just a meteor”, it is remarkable that amateur astronomers are today capable of monitoring almost permanently the planet Jupiter. These organized network teams are a great asset for professional astronomers since they can detect these events and quickly warn others.

Clear skies,

Franck Marchis

 [Edited at 11:04pm to include the Voyager impact. Thanks to Kunio Sayanagi for his comments

[Edited at 1:04 pn on Sep 11 - link to the video was added]

About Franck Marchis

Dr. Franck Marchis is a Researcher at the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute since July 2007. Over the past 15 years, he has dedicated his research to the study of our solar system using mainly ground-based telescopes equipped with adaptive optics. More recently he has been also involved in the definition of new generation of AOs for 8 -10 m class telescopes and future Extremely Large Telescopes. He has developed algorithms to process and enhance the quality of images, both astronomical and biological, using fluorescence microscopy. His currently involved in the development of the Gemini Planet Imager, an extreme AO system for the Gemini South telescope which will be capable of imaging and record spectra of exoplanets orbiting around nearby stars.

11 Responses to Another fireball on Jupiter?

  1. [...]      - Vu en premier chez Alan Boyle et Franck Marchis [...]

  2. Paul Cox says:

    Here’s Jupiter imaged a few minutes ago from Slooh’s Canary Islands Observatory: http://goo.gl/wurvr

  3. Very O Futuristic..perhaps, the planet is evolving or recreating to be inhabited. Why now? There has been no activity before the 70′s? Timing is important. Something definitely cause the flare. No freak accident.

  4. [...] um 11:35:30 UTC ist es wieder passiert: Amateurastronomen – diesmal Zeitzonen-bedingt in den USA – beobachteten und filmten [...]

  5. Quoc says:

    G’Day! Franck,
    Neat Post, when they say the fireball “slammed” into jupiter, is there really anything in that bigass sphere to slam into? do we know what’s inside jupiter? is there really any solid surface anywhere in it at all? what’s a more likely scenario for what happened to the fireball when it entered jupiter’s atmosphere? just curious. thanks
    Good Job!

  6. [...] Franck Marchis has more at his blog with a pretty good analysis. Worth checking out! Posted in Jupiter, Solar System Tagged impact, Jupiter [...]

  7. [...] är inte första gången som vi sett sådant här drabba Jupiter. Planetforskaren Franck Marchis skriver om händelsen på sin blogg och om de andra gånger som vi sett saker störta mot Jupiter.Kometen Shoemaker-Levy 9 bröt upp [...]

  8. From the looks of the video, Monday night would not have been a very jovial night to spend on Jupiter. Two amateur astronomers saw a bright white flash for a few seconds just inside Jupiter’s eastern limb, which was probably a fireball a hundred miles in diameter caused by an asteroid or comet impacting Jupiter’s atmosphere.

  9. [...] Marchis (2012-09-10). “Another fireball on Jupiter?”. Cosmic Diary blog. Retrieved [...]

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