Scientists come across a meteor that crashed into Jupiter

This color-enhanced image shows NASA’s Juno view of Jupiter in late 2020.

NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS; image processing Tanya Oleksuik

Researchers use NASA’s Juno spacecraft to check out Jupiter’s auroras they say they got lucky last spring while catching a very bright meteoroid explosion.

Such influences are not uncommon for Jupiter, as it is the largest planet in the solar system with severely strong gravity.

“However, they are so short-lived that it is relatively unusual to see them,” said Rohini Giles of the Southwestern Research Institute. “You must be lucky to point the telescope at Jupiter at just the right time.”

Giles is the lead author of a paper published this month in Geophysical Research Letters.

Amateur astronomers have used Earth-based telescopes to observe six impacts on a giant planet in the past decade, including quite dramatic in 2019. But Giles and colleagues had a distinct advantage in using Juno that Jupiter was friends with.

“This bright flash stood out in the data because it had very different spectral characteristics than UV emissions from Jupiter’s auroras,” Giles explained.


SwRI scientists studied the area recorded by Juno’s UVS instrument on April 10, 2020, and determined that a large meteoroid exploded in a bright fireball in Jupiter’s upper atmosphere. The UVS part covers a segment of Jupiter’s northern polar eagle, which appears pure green, representing hydrogen emission. In contrast, the bright spot (see magnification) appears mostly yellow, indicating significant emissions at longer wavelengths.


Looking at the brightness and other data from the flash, the team estimates it originated from a space rock weighing between 550 and 3,300 pounds (249 to 1,497 kilograms) that affects Jovia’s atmosphere at an altitude of about 225 kilometers. above the top of Jupiter’s clouds.

Things that hit Jupiter can be a pretty big deal. The biggest drop ever seen on the planet was the impact of the shoemaker Comet Levy 9 in 1994, which has been widely studied.

“The effects of asteroids and comets can have a significant impact on the planet’s stratospheric chemistry – 15 years after the impact, Comet Shoemaker Levy 9 is still responsible for 95 percent of stratospheric water on Jupiter,” Giles said. “Continuing to observe impacts and estimate overall impact rates is an important element of understanding the composition of the planet.”

Follow CNET space calendar for 2021 to keep up to date with all the latest space news this year. You can even add it to your Google Calendar.