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A small asteroid produces a large flash slamming on Jupiter



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The bright moment of impact on the world's largest solar system.


Ethan Chappel

An amateur astronomer captured a flash in the atmosphere of Jupiter last month that appeared as a bright dot nearly the size of Earth compared to the giant planet. New analysis of the footage found the short fire was caused by a relatively small asteroid.

A slow motion GIF of glowing flash and fading in the center of the left of the planet.


Ethan Chappel / EPSC

Ethan Chappel recorded a 1.5-second flash on August 7 using a telescope in his backyard in Texas. At its peak, it coincided with the brightness of Jupiter's moon Io.

Ramanakumar Sankar and Csaba Palotai of the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) analyzed the data to estimate that the flash could have been caused by an impact from a steel steel core between 39 and 52 feet (12 and 16 meters) ) in diameter, or about the size of a large bus. The object probably had a mass of about 450 tons and released the equivalent of an explosion of 240 kilotons of TNT when it collapsed in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter around 50 miles (80 km) above the clouds of the planet.

That is about half of the energy released by the bolide that exploded in Russia as it exploded in the atmosphere in 2013 that released a shock wave that loosened thousands of windows in the city of Chelyabinsk.

The new results were presented Monday at a meeting of the European Planetary Society Congress in Geneva.

Ricardo Hueso, a physicist at the University of the Basque Country in Spain, is one of the developers of an open source software package called DeTeCt that is specially designed to detect Jupiter effects. Chappel used DeTeCt to study his video of the August impact. Hueso said the impact appears to be the second brightest of six captured since 2010.

"Most of these objects hit Jupiter without being noticed by Earth observers," Hueso said. "However, we estimate 20 to 60 similar effects on Jupiter each year."

If that's the case, that's a horrible light that shows no one, including some that may be brighter than the size of the planet's flash we saw last month.


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