Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on TwitterThe recent hell that was unleashed by an asteroid hitting Jupiter is just a remainder that our solar system is a very large shooting range where even the Earth can be a target. Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, followed up on a report by amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley of Australia of a new dark mark in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Using NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility at the summit of Mauna Kea, the scientists found more evidence backing up the theory that the dark mark was caused by an impact.
There is no real catastrophe from an asteroid hitting Jupiter, but “If an object of about the same size that just hit Jupiter also hit Earth — it was probably a typical cometary object of a kilometer or so in size — it would have been fairly catastrophic,” explained astronomer Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object program office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. An object that size could cause tsunamis and climate changes here. The chances of an asteroid hitting the Earth are fairly slim. Currently just one NEO of all the objects scientists are tracking poses any significant chance of hitting the Earth — 2007 VK184. If this roughly 130 meter asteroid hit our planet, it would strike with an energy of roughly 150 million tons of TNT, or more than 10,000 times that of the bombs dropped on Japan during WWII.
An asteroid hitting Jupiter is fairly common because of its size. The analysis of the shape and brightness of the feature will help in determining the energy and the origin of the impactor,” says UC Berkeley and SETI Institute astronomer Franck Marchis. “We don’t see other bright features along the same latitude, so this was most likely the result of a single asteroid.” Continuing observations will reveal more about what has so recently struck Jupiter. The sun is the biggest target in the solar system and incurs numerous comet strikes on a regular basis. Jupiter, being the largest planet in the solar system, is the next largest target. Jupiter makes up 71% of the mass of the planets in the solar system. Its gravitational well helps draw impactors toward it and away from Earth.
Even though an asteroid hitting Jupiter is fairly common, it is still cause for great amounts of interest among astronomers. The extent of the damage and the size of the impact crater may help astronomers to determine the effects of a similar impact event here on Earth.
There are several interesting articles on the Jovian impact event. Here on Universe Today there is an article on the confirmation of the impact and another on observing the results of an asteroid hitting Jupiter.