Rare Video Shows Jupiter Being Smashed Into by Huge Space Rock

Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, has been walloped by a space rock, and the flash of light was bright enough to be spotted by astronomers here on Earth.

The impact occurred last week on October 15 at about 9:24 a.m. EDT, and was spotted by researchers at Kyoto University in Japan.

The researchers were using the PONCOTS observation system, part of the Organized Autotelescopes for Serendipitous Event Survey (OASES).

The team have released still images of the impact as well as video footage, which shows how a white spot briefly glows on Jupiter's striped surface before slowly fading away.

To make sure that what they had seen was real and not some sort of telescope anomaly, the team reached out to fellow astronomers via Twitter to ask if they also happened to have a telescope fixed on Jupiter at the same time.

Thankfully, they did.

"We received another isolated detection of the same flash event from a Japanese amateur astronomer," Ko Arimatsu, assistant professor at Kyoto University's Astronomical Observatory, told Newsweek.

The amateur astronomer's own clip was uploaded to Twitter here.

木星表面に閃光が発生した瞬間の動画です
(昨晩22:24、PONCOTSを用いて京都大学吉田キャンパスにて撮影、メタンバンド(波長889 nm))。 pic.twitter.com/tEqxlTE9x2

— 京大OASES project (@OASES_miyako) October 16, 2021

"Since the timing and the position of their detection are consistent with our detection, we have confirmed that our detection is an actual impact flash event on Jupiter," Arimatsu added.

The astronomer thinks that the collision likely involved a small asteroid or a fragment of a comet that slammed into the gas giant's atmosphere. Despite the brightness of the flash, the size of the asteroid is thought to have been a few to tens of meters in diameter based on preliminary estimates.

It's not actually that rare for Jupiter to be hit by space rocks—Arimatsu told Newsweek the gas giant is estimated to experience some sort of impact between 10 and 60 times per year—but it much rarer for astronomers to spot this happening.

An amateur astronomer managed to capture a similar event occurring earlier this year.

The Kyoto University team called their finding a "collision flash event candidate".

Sky & Telescope magazine referred to it as the 11th observed comet or asteroid strike on Jupiter since 1994.

In any case, it's certainly not the first notable flash astronomers have spotted on the gas giant. Back in 1994, large chunks of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter over a period of several days, creating bright flashes followed by dark scars on the planet's clouds.

In a NASA article, Heidi Hammel, who observed the comet using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, said the impacts drove home how important it is to understand the potential for impacts on Earth.

According to The Planetary Society, Jupiter is thought to play some part in protecting Earth from space rocks because its vast gravitational pull attracts them, stopping them from hitting our own planet.

At the same time, however, the planet might also nudge a space rock towards Earth.

Jupiter
An artist's illustration of Jupiter illuminated by the sun. The gas giant is the solar system's largest planet. Naeblys/Getty