Watch a Mysterious Celestial Object Collide With Jupiter
In a solar system filled with random asteroids, meteors and comets bashing into each other, the biggest potential target outside the sun is Jupiter. So while it’s not surprising that the gas giant is regularly slammed by other, smaller celestial objects, it’s still pretty cool when random astronomers happen to catch the fireworks in action.
Gerrit Kernbauer was one of a handful with a telescope focused on Jupiter in mid March 2016 when he happened to catch sight of something broadsiding the largest planet in the solar system.
“The seeing was not the best,” Kernbauer admitted in the “About” section of his Youtube post, “So I hesitated to process the videos.” It’s fortunate that he did—after admittedly waiting several days—as he found “this strange light spot that appeared for less than one second on the edge of the planetary disc.”
Kernbauer’s assessment? “[My] only explanation for this is an asteroid or comet that enters Jupiter’s high atmosphere and burned up/explode very fast.”
NASA asteroid expert Paul Chodas told Space.com that the event “simply serves to remind us that impacts in the solar system are real and Jupiter gets more than its fair share of impacts.”
Jupiter “draws in a lot of asteroids and comets,” Chodas said, and skywatchers “are seeing these impact flashes on Jupiter about once a year now, and that’s I believe because of instrumentation.”
Naturally for most who saw and for those who wrote about the mid-March impact, the strike brought up memories of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which plowed into Jupiter in July 1994. Far better cameras were trained on the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact, and a today vintage video from NASA underscores the drama of the event— at least for both professional and amateur space freaks and astronomers everywhere.
A natural question pops up every time asteroid or comet impacts of any kind enter the news: will it happen to Earth? It already does, in smaller ways, on a regular basis. Now and then, though, something gets a little too close for comfort—like the Chelyabinsk Event in Russia in 2013. Earth, however, is well-protected by its atmosphere and by its position in the solar system, at least to some degree.
It doesn’t hurt to have a reminder now and then, though, that the solar system is like a big pool table and cosmic forces are like your drunk buddy going crazy with a cue, shooting balls everywhere. Anything could happen — and one day will.