Two amateur astronomers in different parts of the world took video through their telescopes of a sizable object slamming into Jupiter. While reviewing footage, Austrian Gerrit Kernbauer saw a flash of light on one side of our massive neighbor. John McKeon of Swords, Ireland also happened to be filming Jupiter and has his own footage. Analysts who viewed the clips estimate the impact object to likely be a comet measuring tens of meters wide.
Does Jupiter Keep Us Safe?
Comets and asteroids slamming into Jupiter is not a rare occurrence in cosmic terms. As the largest planet in our solar system and the one with the largest gravitational field, Jupiter gets more than its fair share. In fact, Jupiter is referred to as a “cosmic vacuum cleaner” due to its propensity to suck in objects hurtling through the solar system. One highly publicized impact was the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet which had become trapped in a Jovian orbit and passed close enough during one pass to be broken by tidal forces. The resulting shards hit Jupiter in 1994, creating a trail of scars that lasted for months. A popular theory is that Jupiter helps protect the Earth from planet-killing impacts like the one that caused the dinosaur extinction. However, in a study by the Jet Propulsion Lab published in January of 2016, cast doubt on it. The study did a simulation with 10,000 “particles” and found that the system’s gas giants had limited effect on stopping them from hitting a simulated Earth. However, it did find that Jupiter tended to slow them down, so they had more time to eject material in the inner solar system, potentially delivering life-enabling compounds to Earth.
Image credit: History Channel