Amateur Astronomer Films the Moment Jupiter Is Hit by a Space Rock

An amateur astronomer has captured the moment a space rock collided with Jupiter. The debris struck the gas giant, which is the solar system's largest planet, at 6:39 pm EDT on Monday, creating a flash of light at its surface.

Brazilian astronomy enthusiast José Luis Pereira filmed the space rock hitting Jupiter's upper atmosphere and breaking up in spectacular fashion while making images and videos of the gas giant from São Caetano do Sul, São Paulo.

At first, the amateur astronomer didn't realize the significance of what he had seen.

He told Space.com: "To my surprise, in the first video I noticed a different glow on the planet, but I didn't pay much attention to it as I thought it might be something related to the parameters adopted, and I continued watching normally."

It was only after inputting the videos to a program designed to detect impacts on Jupiter offered by the Planetary Virtual Observatory & Laboratory that Pereira realized what he had caught on video.

"I checked the result only on the morning of the 14th when the program alerted me to the high probability of impact and verified that there was indeed a record in the first video of the night."

Pereira forwarded his discovery regarding the gas giant to Marc Delcroix of the French Astronomical Society, who confirmed the impact. It was also recorded by the Astroqueyras Observatory, Saint-Véran, France.

The observatory uploaded the video, which captures the impact at a slightly different image, to the YouTube channel SLA astronomie54

Jupiter is no stranger to impacts from space debris and objects like asteroids and comets. The solar system's second-largest body after our sun not only has a massive radius of 43,440.7 miles, but its gravitational influence can draw smaller objects towards it. That's why some scientists have dubbed it the "vacuum cleaner of the solar system."

Jupiter is also ringed by a torus of asteroids called the main asteroid belt that separates the gas giant from the inner solar system's rocky worlds, Mars, Earth, Venus, and Mercury.

Objects from the belt, which are mainly made up of rock left over from the formation of the solar system around 4.6 billion years ago, can not just be pulled towards Jupiter, but can also be flung into the inner solar or beyond by the gravity of the massive planet. Researchers believe that this is why some asteroids have such wide orbits., at some point they were disturbed by the gravity of Jupiter.

That means that while Jupiter is often credited with protecting Earth and the other inner planets by deflecting comets and asteroids, sometimes it sends objects on a collision course straight towards them.

Without question, the most famous impact on Jupiter is that of the Shoemaker-Levy comet in 1994. The comet had been broken into several smaller pieces which gradually fell to the upper atmosphere of the planet between July 16 and July 22 of that year.

The impact of this space rock on Jupiter may not have been as great as that of Shoemaker-Levy, but it has certainly made its mark on Pereira. The amateur astronomer told Space.com: "For me, it was a moment of great emotion, as I have been looking for a record of [such an] event for many years."

Jupiter
A Stock image of Jupiter and its moon. The gas giant planet was recently struck by a piece of space debris creating a flash that was caught by a Brazilian amateur astronomer. alexaldo/Getty