A photo of amateur astronomer Ethan Chappel shows an asteroid banging against gas giant Jupiter on Wednesday (7th August). So far, astronomers are still waiting to see if anyone else has discovered the sudden lightning that was above the planet’s southern equatorial belt. Today was totally unreal for me, “Chappel wrote on Twitter.
There are many precedents for such Jupiter influences: the massive gravity of the planet carries asteroids and other space debris. A group of astronomers has estimated that an object bumps into the planet 5 to 20 meters above the ground between one and five times a month. These effects are inevitable given the vast amount of debris floating through the expanse of space.
Astronomers have already identified more than 20,000 objects hanging around in the vicinity of Earth alone, and they know that the number is only a fraction of the total. Such space rocks also hit the earth, and protecting the earth from them is the job of a field known as planetary defense, but Jupiter gets more hits because of its mass. Jupiter’s most famous bruise came in 1994 from comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. The comet shattered and over the course of two years, about 20 different pieces fell into the confined clouds of the gas giant, leaving dark scars in the clouds. This impact is unlikely to leave such scars, according to astronomer Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute on Twitter, who pointed to observations of the Hubble Space Telescope at the impact of Shoemaker-Levy 9. This is the same telescope that recently unveiled a stunning new image of Jupiter and its slowly shrinking Great Red Spot. This image was taken long before Chappel’s photo on June 27th.) We contacted Ethan and George Chappel to learn more about their amazing Jupiter flash photo.