Surprise Collision on Jupiter Captured by Gemini Telescope

July 23, 2009
This mid-infrared composite image was obtained with the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i, on 22 July at ~13:30 UT with the MICHELLE mid-infrared spectrograph/imager. The impact site is the bright yellow spot at the center bottom of Jupiter's disk. The image was constructed from two images: one at 8.7 micron (blue) and one at 9.7 micron (yellow). The excellent quality of the Gemini images reveals that the morphology of this new impact bears a striking resemblance to that of the larger impact sites seen after the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter in 1994. Photo Credit: Imke de Pater (UC Berkeley), Heidi B. Hammel (Space Science Institute), Travis Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), Gemini Observatory/AURA

( -- Jupiter is sporting a glowing bruise after getting unexpectedly whacked by a small solar system object, according to astronomers using the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawai'i. A spectacular new mid-infrared image is available for download on this page.

The new feature on Jupiter was first seen by Australian amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley on July 19th. The object that caused the impact scar could have been a small comet or asteroid. Using the SL9 impacts as a guide, the impacting object was probably just a few hundreds of meters in diameter. Such small bodies are nearly impossible to detect near or beyond Jupiter unless they reveal cometary activity, or, as in this case, make their presence known by impacting a giant planet. The impact site is dark in visible-wavelength images.

With the superb angular resolution of the Gemini observations, the data show the impact site in remarkable detail. "The structure of the impact site is eerily reminiscent of the larger Shoemaker-Levy 9 sites 15 years ago," remarked Heidi Hammel (Space Science Institute), who was part of the team that supported the effort at Gemini. In 1994, Hammel led the team that imaged when it was pummeled by a shattered comet. "The morphology is suggestive of an arc-like structure in the feature's debris field," Hammel noted.

"We utilized the powerful mid-infrared capabilities of the Gemini to record the impact's effect on Jupiter's upper atmosphere," said Imke de Pater (University of California, Berkeley). "At these wavelengths we receive thermal radiation (heat) from the planet's upper atmosphere. The impact site is clearly much warmer than its surroundings, as shown by our image taken at an of 18 microns."

The Gemini images were obtained with the MICHELLE spectrograph/imager, yielding a series of images at 7 different mid-infrared wavelengths. Two of the images (8.7 and 9.7 microns) were combined into a color composite image by Travis Rector at the University of Alaska, Anchorage to create the final false-color image. By using the full set of Gemini images taken over a range of wavelengths from 8 to 18 microns, the team will be able to disentangle the effects of temperature, ammonia abundance, and upper atmospheric aerosol content. Comparing these Gemini observations with past and future images will permit the team to study the evolution of features as Jupiter's strong winds disperse them.

"The Gemini support staff made a heroic effort to get these data," said de Pater. "We were on the telescope observing within 24 hours of contacting the observatory." Because of the transient nature of this event, the telescope was scheduled as a "Target of Opportunity" and required staff to react quickly to the request. Tom Geballe and Chad Trujillo helped plan the observations, Rachel Mason programmed the observing plan for MICHELLE and the telescope, and Paul Hirst performed the observations. Additional members of the team are Glenn Orton and Leigh Fletcher from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Provided by Gemini Observatory

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5 / 5 (6) Jul 23, 2009
Amazing that a discovery made by an amateur astronomer with a 14.5 inch telescope is now being studied with 8-10 meter class 'scopes! Anthony Wesley has made other initial observations of phenomena on Jupiter that were later followed up by professional astronomers. Great to see this pro-am collaboration go forward.
5 / 5 (4) Jul 23, 2009
Yup yyz. Astronomy is one of those few fields where the distinction between "professional" and "amateur" is blurred beyond recognition. Amateur Astronomer doesn't mean "useless nut in his backyard with 50 bucks worth of equipment" like it does in other fields.

In astronomy amateurs often have equipment (and, sometimes, knowledge) of professional calibre. The difference is that a "professional" gets paid, while an "amateur" doesn't;). In order to be considered a professional astronomer some arbitrary percentage of their wage has to come from astronomy related work (I don't recall the exact figure... it's something like 1/3?).
1.3 / 5 (4) Jul 23, 2009
Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! -

Oi! Oi! Oi!
1.7 / 5 (6) Jul 23, 2009
I think it was target practice. You think things stopped with Apollo? A most dangerous threat to the planet is impact, and the Soviets and NASA were busy out there deflecting objects. Many 'lost' Mars probes, secret USSR launch bases, a huge, myopic Russian telescope only good for widefield surveys, a delayed space telescope which could have spotted activity, lost Russian manned capsule from orbit ... Questions? Comments?
5 / 5 (4) Jul 24, 2009
otto1923, I used to work at NASA. It was great to be able to go down the halls, walk into somebody's office who was working on something interesting. Just talk to them, find out what was going on.

I'd love to be still doing that. I can imagine that there's a sense of frustration in the many people who never had the opportunity! But frustration does not = hiding things. These are just people doing their jobs, going out to lunch, going home to the kids. There aren't any big conspiracies to hide things. Spacecraft don't go mysteriously missing. There's a bug in the software, somebody sent the wrong command, the engineers didn't account for a possible problem. That's all there is.

5 / 5 (2) Jul 24, 2009
Cool! A conspiracy nut! Hey, hey, do the Roswell one next, that's funnier.
not rated yet Jul 24, 2009
Well, I screwed that up [iPhone] but you get my point-
not rated yet Jul 24, 2009
OK let me try that again:
Well, I mis-conjectured I think. Not NASA but their expertise, possibly. If something that devastating was inevitable, wouldn't someone want to do everything in their power to prevent it? Was it at least possible to do something like this, given technologies of the time? Did the soviets have launch facilities, resources, space stations for assembly, fissiles, probes which could land and hop about on Mars moons [and which disappeared]? And could a program of this sort have taken place in total secrecy?? [pant pant] Did you know that some of the first manned Soviet orbital missions actually carried anti-Gemini rockets? A test perhaps of albedo-altering demolitions to change the trajectory of an Apollo asteroid. Mars trajectory- just the thing for gravity-assist to the asteroid belt or above the orbital plane. A few dozen probes lost -? WHAT could it all MEAN? 
not rated yet Jul 24, 2009
Cool! A conspiracy nut!
-I think I'm talking to old people here.

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