Fireballs in Jupiter's atmosphere observed by amateur astronomers

Sep 14, 2013
The first of these collisions was observed by A. Wesley from Australia and C. Go from Philippines on June, 3 2010. The second object was observed by three Japanese amateur observers (M. Tachikawa, K. Aoki and M. Ichimaru) on August, 20 that year and a third collision was observed by G. Hall from USA on September, 10 2012 after a report of a visual observation from D. Petersen from USA. Credit: Hueso/Wesley/Go/Tachikawa/Aoki/Ichimaru/Petersen

The solar system is crowded with small objects like asteroids and comets. Most have stable orbits which keep them out of harm's way, but a small proportion of them are in orbits that risk them colliding with planets.

The smaller the objects, the more numerous they are, and the more frequent these collisions should occur. Collisions like the recent meteor seen over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February 2013, are rare because the object was relatively large, around 17 meters across.

The giant planet Jupiter—a big target with tremendous —gets hit far more often than the Earth, and these collisions are much faster, happen at a minimum speed of 60 kilometers per second.

Amateur astronomers observing Jupiter with have been able to observe three of these collisions in the last 3 years and a detailed report of these collisions has been presented at the European Planetary Science Congress at UCL this week by Ricardo Hueso (University of the Basque Country, Spain).

"Our analysis shows that Jupiter could be impacted by objects around 10 meters across between 12 and 60 times per year," Hueso says. "That is around 100 times more often than the Earth."

Simulations of object entering Jupiter’s atmosphere. Credit: Jarrad Pond/South Florida University.

The study, a broad collaboration between professional and , also includes detailed simulations of objects entering Jupiter's atmosphere and disintegrating at temperatures above 10,000 °C and observations from telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope or the Very Large Telescope of the impact area taken only tens of hours after the impact. Despite observing the planet soon after the impact, Hubble and the VLT saw no signature of the disintegrated objects, showing that such impacts are very brief events.

Because the glow of these impacts is so short-lived, and they happen at unpredictable times, major observatories like Hubble and the VLT cannot reliably observe them—these telescopes have packed observing schedules and cannot be dedicated to long-term monitoring of a planet. Amateur astronomers, who can dedicate night after night to observing a planet, have a far better chance of spotting these impacts, even if their equipment is far more rudimentary.

Explore further: Space scientists find way to monitor elusive collisions in space

Provided by European Planetary Science Congress

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FastEddy
1 / 5 (7) Sep 15, 2013
"... these telescopes have packed observing schedules and cannot be dedicated to long-term monitoring of a planet ..."

Besides that, who would expect highly paid professional astronomers to waste their valuable time and our vast tax revenues on such trivialities ... Unless Jupiter's (et al) disruptions are a topic at the latest gatherings or committees' agendas, these observations will remain, as always, the purview of seriously dedicated "amateurs".
Neinsense99
1 / 5 (1) Sep 17, 2013
"... these telescopes have packed observing schedules and cannot be dedicated to long-term monitoring of a planet ..."

Besides that, who would expect highly paid professional astronomers to waste their valuable time and our vast tax revenues on such trivialities ... Unless Jupiter's (et al) disruptions are a topic at the latest gatherings or committees' agendas, these observations will remain, as always, the purview of seriously dedicated "amateurs".

Jupiter is one very big 'triviality'!
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Sep 19, 2013
Despite observing the planet soon after the impact, Hubble and the VLT saw no signature of the disintegrated objects, showing that such impacts are very brief events


That isn't any different than objects entering Earth's atmosphere. It's usually impossible to know that anything happened just a few minutes after the event.

I saw a big fireball a couple years ago, here in South Carolina. It was a mostly cloudy night, and I just happened to be in the right place to see it through a break in the clouds. It was so bright that I first mistook it for a helicopter searchlight coming over the house from the back yard. I first saw the light cast from behind the house and had time to start walking out into the front yard for a better view when it came into view and I literally jumped and ducked before realizing what it was. Oddly, nobody else reported seeing it. Due to the clouds, I may have been the only witness.

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