On the night of September 13, Brazilian amateur astronomer José Luis Pereira captured a bright flash on Jupiter. He looked for more flashes with DeTeCt software, a tool that checks planetary impact events, spots and characterizes them. The programme beamed a high probability of a collision.
The object, supposedly a comet or an asteroid, was approximately 120 to 160 feet wide. It travelled at high speed and journeyed deep into Jupiter’s heavy atmosphere. After that, it experienced strong friction and heated up while falling through the planet’s clouds and exploded at some point.
The one to two-second flash is similar to the bright ‘airburst’ flash when a decently-sized asteroid blows up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Upon confirmation, this would be the eighth recorded impact at Jupiter, according to Sky & Telescope. The first impact occurred in July 1994 when fragments of sundered Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slammed into the planet.
“I noticed a different glow on the planet but didn’t pay much attention to it; I thought it might be something related to the parameters adopted,” said Pereira. “To not stop the captures in progress for fear that weather conditions would worsen, I didn’t check the first video.”
Light on at Jupiter! Anyone home? This bright impact flash was spotted yesterday on the giant planet by astronomer José Luis Pereira.
Not a lot of info on the impacting object yet but its likely to be large and/or fast!
— ESA Operations (@esaoperations) September 14, 2021
NASA steps in
Alongside, NASA is set to launch a spacecraft in October to a group of asteroids near Jupiter. On its first mission, the Lucy space probe will lift off on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on October 16. This 12-year mission will give scientists access to the 7,000 Trojan asteroids sharing their orbits with Jupiter around the sun. These rocky bodies are currently circling the Sun in two swarms – one in front of Jupiter in its orbital path and the other trailing behind it.
Lucy will travel to eight different asteroids – one in the Main Belt between Mars and Jupiter and the remaining seven Trojans.