Jupiter was seen taking a bright flash of light, a sight that led most astronomers to believe that the giant planet sustained a hit from a comet or asteroid.
The flash on Jupiter suggests that the planet “has taken another bullet for the solar system team” after sustaining similar impacts in 2009 and 2010, NBC News reported. Just like in those cases, astronomers are now on the lookout for visible scars on Jupiter’s cloud tops, which would signify that a comet or asteroid was pulled in by the planet’s gravitational pull.
“It’s kind of a scary proposition to see how often Jupiter gets hit,” said George Hall, an amateur astronomer from Dallas who detailed the flash on his blog, George’s Astrophotography.
Hall didn’t actually see the flash himself, NBC News noted. Instead he pointed his telescope to Jupiter with a camera attached, hoping to capture imagery for a composite picture of the planet.
Another amateur astronomer, Dan Peterson, also caught the flash and made not of it on a message board for astronomers. He noted that the flash appeared to be about 100 miles in diameter.
“We’ll have to wait and see if a dark spot developes [sic] inside the southern regions of the NEB over the next day or two. Good luck imaging this. My best guess is that it was a small undetected comet that is now history, hopefully it will sign its name on Jupiter’s cloud tops.”
Universe Today reported that astronomers said the impact area would come back into view starting at about 1 am ET Tuesday.
Jupiter impacts are of interest to astronomers “because they’re part of the orbital billiards game that has shaped our solar system,” NBC News noted. Often these asteroids are destroyed before they can make a visible impact on Jupiter’s cloud tops, but they sometimes can break up and leave black marks on the planet’s atmosphere.