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A Meteor Smashing into the Biggest Planet of the Solar System, Jupiter

Jupiter is the largest planet of the solar system, and it has some compelling gravity to boot. These impacts are not rare. Using NASA’s Juno Spacecraft, researchers check out Jupiter’s auroras. They say that last spring, they got lucky and caught a very bright meteoroid shower in the process.

The Southwest Research Institute’s Rohini Giles said, “However, they are so short-lived that it is relatively unusual to see them. You have to be lucky to be pointing a telescope at Jupiter at exactly the right time.” Rohini Giles led a paper published in the Geophysical Research Letters as the lead author.

In 2019, amateur astronomers used Earth-based telescopes to spot six impacts on Jupiter in the past ten years. Using Juno hanging out by Jupiter itself, Giles and her colleagues had a distinct advantage. Giles explained, “This bright flash stood out in the data, as it had very different spectral characteristics than the UV emissions from Jupiter’s auroras.”

With all the flash data, the team feels that it came from a space rock with a mass of between 550 and 3300 pounds which impacted the Jovian atmosphere. It can be a pretty big deal if things start slamming into Jupiter. In 1994, the biggest smackdown was seen on the planet from the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. This impact was also widely studied.

Giles said that the impacts from asteroids and comets could significantly impact the planet’s stratospheric chemistry. Even 15 years after the crash, the comet Shoemaker Levy 9 was still responsible for 95 percent of the stratospheric water on Jupiter. Researchers are continuing to observe the impacts, and estimating the overall impact rates is an essential element of understanding the planet’s composition.

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