Jupiter was hit during the day yesterday – but it apparently went unobserved from Earth
…except for one astronomer, Dan Petersen, who saw the flash with his own eyes
When Petersen reported the sighting on a web forum, amateur astronomer George Hall checked his overnight footage
By Eddie Wrenn
PUBLISHED:07:49 EST, 11 September 2012| UPDATED:09:17 EST, 11 September 2012
This is the moment Jupiter was struck by a mighty meteorite yesterday – and our only record of it is this image, captured by a lone webcam chugging away in the early hours of the morning.
As the people of Earth carried out their lives unawares, it seems our gas giant neighbour took a forceful blow to the side at about 11.35am GMT yesterday.
Amateur astronomer George Hall, from Dallas, captured the flash on video at 5:35am CET – but he only went to check his footage after hearing online that another astronomer, watching the planet with his own eyes, saw the huge explosion bloom out of Jupiter in the blink of an eye.
Now astronomers are waiting for the planet to swing back round – to see if Jupiter has been scarred by the impact.
If it has, a black smudge is likely to appear on the ‘clouds’ of the planet, a distinctive mark to go alongside the Red Spot - Jupiter’s giant storm.
JUPITER: SAVIOUR OF EARTH
Jupiter has been known as the ‘cosmic vacuum cleaner’ of the solar system.
The planet’s mass and large orbit sweeps up the scattered meteors that are relics from the early days of our solar system formation, with the planet either ‘taking the bullet’ itself, or deflecting orbits away from the inner planets.
Many astronomers believe life would not have got started on Earth with Jupiter’s influence – and before our solar system settled down, Earth was frequently bombarded with giant impacts.
Jupiter has taken many a hit from the rocks that maraude their way through the solar system – remnants from the early days of the solar system when rocks would co-coalesce to form our planets.
Asteroid impacts were reported in 2009 and 2010 – and in 1994, the string of comets known as Shoemaker-Levy ploughed into the planet, offering us an eerie glimpse of what happens in during such colossal impacts.
George Hall, who blogs about his images, who went back through the footage recorded by his telescope overnight to find the impact, said: It’s kind of a scary proposition to see how often Jupiter gets hit.’
His image was captured by a 12-inch Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and a Point Grey Flea3 video camera attached to capture imagery for a composite picture of Jupiter.
He said: ‘Jupiter happens to be ideally positioned at about 6 o’clock in the morning – it’s right overhead.’
The flare lasted just two seconds – and Halls’ equipment happened to capture the shot at exactly the right moment for the above image.
In many ways it is pure chance the flash was captured. Astronomer Dan Petersen saw the impact live and reported it on the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers’ Jupiter forum.
Hall visited the forum, saw the report, and decided to check his footage.
He said: ‘I decided to just observe on this particular morning.
‘Had I been imaging I probably would have missed it while playing with webcam settings and focusing.’
He told NBC: ‘I never would have looked’ if he hadn’t heard the buzz on the forums, but luckily he checked his records for the same time reported by Petersen – 6:35am CT, 7:35 am ET, or 11:35 GMT – and found the image, appearing in just one frame.
Later today as Jupiter’s spin turns the right part of the planet’s face back to Earth, astronomers will hunt out any visible signs of the impact.
However, as Hall told, he will probably be in bed at the time.
‘I’m almost 70 years old, he said. ‘And it takes a lot out of me to get up at 4:30 or 5.’
Hopefully, there will be a smear. If not, there would have been no record of the cosmic impact – other than in the eyeballs of an amateur astronomer, and a blurry still captured on a webcam.