Viewing Alert: Jupiter May Have Been Impacted by a Fireball

by Nancy Atkinson on September 11, 2012

An apparent object impact captured about 6:35 am on Sept. 10, 2012 from Dallas, Texas USA. Credit: George Hall.

UPDATE: Yes, there was an impact! An amateur astronomer in Dallas Texas, George Hall captured the impact flash in his webcam — click here to see his website and image – at about 6:30 am on Sept. 10, 2012.

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From astronomer Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute comes news about a potential new impact on Jupiter. She reports there has been a visual sighting of an apparent fireball on Jupiter earlier today (about 10 hours ago, as of this posting) so the impact site should be visible again over the next few hours. According to amateur astronomers discussing this on G+, the impact area on Jupiter won’t be visible again until about 05:00 UTC, (01:00 EDT). The amateur who observed the flash was Dan Petersen, from Oregon, who made the observation at approximately 11:35 UTC on September 10. Petersen reported it to Richard Schmude of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (ALPO). Hammel says the report sounds realistic, but obviously it needs confirmation if possible: a) by looking for any ‘impact scar’ tonight or over the next few days; b) by searching any webcam video that any observers might have been recording at the time. From the time and position given, the flash was on the North Equatorial Belt at approximately L1=335, L2=219, L3=257. “Let’s hope someone has a record of it!” Hammel says.

If it was the impact was sizable enough, it might have left an impact scar like those seen after the Shoemaker-Levy/9 impacts and this one in 2010:

Color image of impact on Jupiter on June 3, 2010. Credit: Anthony Wesley

Anthony Wesley from Australia captured the flash of an impact in June 3, 2010. There was also a similar impact and flash in later in 2010 and a big one in 2009.

On the Cloudy Nights astronomy forum, Petersen described his sighting:

This morning (9/10/2012) at 11:35:30 UT, I observed a bright white two second long explosion just inside Jupiter’s eastern limb, located at about Longitude 1 = 335, and Latitude = + 12 degrees north, inside the southern edge of the NEB. This flash appeared to be about 100 miles in diameter. I used my Meade 12″ LX200 GPS telescope and a binoviewer working at 400X for the observation, seeing was very good at the time. I was thinking about imaging Jupiter this morning but decided to observe it instead, had I been imaging I’m sure I would have missed it between adjusting webcam settings and focusing each avi. We’ll have to wait and see if a dark spot develops inside the southern regions of the NEB over the next day or two. Good luck imaging this. My best guess is that it was a small undetected comet that is now history, hopefully it will sign its name on Jupiter’s cloud tops.

If you make any observations or find you have webcam footage that may show such an impact, please send us an email.

Simulated view showing where impact may have occurred (Lat +1... on Twitpic

Via astronomer Pete Lawrence (@Avertedvision on Twitter) is a simulated view showing where impact may have occurred (X marks the spot).

We’ll provide more updates as they become available.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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