Amateur astronomers have captured on camera the moment that an object crashed into Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. Judging from the flash of light recorded by amateur astronomers on March 17, 2016, from a distance of more than 600 million kilometers, astronomers say the object caused a powerful explosion. But while astronomers believe the flash of light was caused by an asteroid or a comet impact, some UFO enthusiasts have declared it was caused by an alien UFO mothership that crashed into the Jovian atmosphere.
According to Space.com, McKeon was observing Jupiter through a telescope from Swords in Ireland, and as he filmed the transit of Jupiter’s moons, Io and Ganymede, with an 11-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and an ASI120mm camera, he noticed a momentary flash of light that suggested something had crashed into the Jovian atmosphere.
According to the amateur astronomer in the description of the time-lapse he captured and uploaded to YouTube on March 29, 2016, “The original purpose of the imaging session was to get this time-lapse, with a happy coincidence of the impact in the second last capture of the night.”
Although astronomers have not confirmed what hit Jupiter, they are certain it is not an “alien UFO mothership,” as some conspiracy theorists have suggested, but possibly a comet or an asteroid that got too close to the planet and got pulled in by the planet’s powerful gravitational field.
Astronomer Phil Plait commented on Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog that the object couldn’t have been very large. He estimated its size at about a few hundred feet and explained that it generated a massive explosion seen on a telescope more than 600 million kilometers away only because Jupiter has a “ferocious” gravitational pull that accelerates incoming objects tremendously and causes incoming objects to release a huge amount of kinetic energy on impact with the planet’s atmosphere.
The tremendous acceleration due to gravity means that an object hits the Jovian atmosphere like a rock slamming into a brick wall at great speed. The friction generates heat that triggers a massive explosion observed as a mere flash of light through telescopes on Earth.
“[An incoming object hits] Jupiter with roughly five times the velocity it hits Earth, so its impact energy is 25 times as high.”
Paul Chodas, who manages NASA’s Near-Earth Object (NEO) Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, told Space.com that it was likely an asteroid that crashed into Jupiter because as far as NASA astronomers have been able to confirm, there are far more asteroids in our solar system than comets and alien UFO motherships.
“It’s more likely to be an asteroid simply because there are more of them.”
The impact event was captured independently on camera (see YouTube below) by another amateur astronomer from Mödling in Austria.
According to Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait, Gerrit Kernbauer captured a video of the impact event at 00:18:33 UTC on March 17 using a 20-cm telescope. The Austrian’s recording of the brief flash of light ruled out the possibility that Mckeon’s flash of light was an artifact of instrumentation, such as a reflection inside the telescope.
Phil Plait posted Kernbauer’s video of the event to YouTube (see below). The video shows three moons of Jupiter, Europa, Ganymede, and Io. The impact flash appears briefly on the upper right edge of Jupiter’s disc.
Kernbauer explained that he filmed the event using a Skywatcher Newton 200/1000 Telescope. He had apparently also been observing the transit of Jupiter’s moons but was not satisfied with the quality of the images he obtained and thus had not planned to process them until he noticed the flash of light while reviewing the images several days later.
Recalling the famous 1994 Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact events, it occurred to him that he may have capture an asteroid or comet impact event.
The Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact events, which occurred between July 16-22 in 1994, were observed through telescopes by astronomers on Earth as a series of light flashes caused by fragments of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slamming into Jupiter. NASA’s Galileo spacecraft approaching Jupiter at the time and the Hubble Space Telescope in low Earth orbit also captured images of the collision.
According to Space.com, dark spots on Jupiter caused by the impacts were visible even through small telescopes.
An Australian amateur astronomer, Anthony Wesley, noticed similar dark spots near Jupiter’s south pole on July 19, 2009, indicating a new impact from an object estimated at about 1,600 feet (500 meters). He noticed another dark spot on June 3, 2010.
On August 20, Masayuki Tachikawa, a Japanese sky watcher, noticed a flash from an impact. On September 12, 2012, Dan Peterson in Racine, Wisconsin, spotted yet another.
According to Chodas, frequent observations of impact flashes on Jupiter alert us to the fact that although the Earth has been spared major impact events in recent years, they are happening regularly in our solar system.
Impact events occur with greater regularity on Jupiter because the planet’s size and massiveness make it a bigger target, and its gravitational pull draws more space objects. We are also witnessing more impact events on Jupiter from Earth due to improved instrumentation.
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