Watch a Space Rock Slam Into Jupiter

Jupiter-rock
An asteroid or comet burning up in Jupiter's atmosphere, as seen from the Earth, more than 400 million miles away. Gerrit Kernbauer

Two amateur astronomers have captured video of what appears to be an asteroid or a comet brightly burning up in Jupiter’s atmosphere as it slams into the gas giant.

On March 17, Irish astronomy enthusiast John McKeon was making a time-lapse film of the transit of Jupiter’s moons Io and Ganymede on his 11-inch telescope when he saw a flash of light at the edge of the planet.

“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,” McKeon wrote in the description of his YouTube video.

Around the same time, amateur astronomer Gerrit Kernbauer was also filming Jupiter with his Skywatcher Newton 200 telescope. He didn’t even notice the flash at the time, but looking through his videos days later, he saw it and took notice. “My only explanation for this is an asteroid or comet that enters Jupiter’s high atmosphere and burned up [or] exploded very fast,” he said in a statement.

This has happened before. In July 1994 Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 collided with Jupiter and broke up into many fragments, which also slammed into the planet, at speeds of 134,000 mph, according to NASA. These left scars on the planet’s face that were visible for weeks.

Jupiter-impact-scars On the right, a line of dark splotches are visible and show the scars created when Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke up and slammed into Jupiter in July 1994. NASA/ESA

Jupiter is vulnerable to comets because it has such a large mass, which pulls in many objects. They then accelerate to enormous speeds and often break up in tremendous flashes of light.