Huge Flash of Light in Jupiter

Another interesting and mysterious event has happened in Jupiter! (On June 3 to be precise). There was a flash of light so bright that it was detected even though it occurred during the Jovian day and even though it was initially seen through an amateur’s telescope, i.e., not from space, or from an observatory.

It has really surprised me that another significant event has occurred in that planet less than a month from the disappearance of one of its stripes. (See my previous post “Jupiter Loses a Stripe and NASA is Mystified”). Another interesting fact is that this event was observed first by Anthony Wesley, an amateur from Broken Hill, Australia (although I’m not so sure that should be the qualifier for someone so dedicated to Jupiter and with so many discoveries as he has). Thanks to him, the scientific community has seen and verified his observation. For me, the most surprising fact is that the scientists cannot explain completely what is behind these events. This should be such an inspiration to current or aspiring astronomers, as there is still so much to discover and learn about our own solar system!

Going back to the fireball or flash, the most likely cause for this phenomenon is supposed to be an impact by a comet or asteroid. The strange thing about it, however, is that it did not leave behind any traces of the debris that would be expected from such an impact. For example, when the comet Shoemaker-Levy 0 crashed against Jupiter in July, 1994, it left very visible marks afterwards for all to see. As Dr. Glenn Orton from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said: "We've seen things hit Jupiter before, and the flash of impact has always been followed by some kind of debris.". So the question is: where is the debris from the impact, if indeed it was an impact? For the complete description of this event, just go to the NASA page titled: “Jupiter Impact: Mystery of the Missing Debris”. Since a picture is worth many words, the following images show the actual event:

Composite images prepared by Anthony Wesley
June 3, 2010 - Broken Hill, Australia

Last, but not least, another lesson for Earth is that the predictions previously made re: the rarity of these impacts have to be seriously revised. It was thought that the chance of seeing an impact on Jupiter would be once every century (this was thought as recently as 1994). However, the verified observations made by just one person, Anthony Wesley, in the last 12 months show that this has happened twice already. As the head of NASA’s Near-Earth Object program of JPL, Dr. Don Yeomans, said: “It's time to revise our impact models [particularly for small impactors]”.

(The “Impact on Jupiter, June 3 2010” web page is the source to Mr. Wesley’s images, as well as two videos of the event – one of 9 seconds and the other one lasting 24 secs.).

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