Two astronomers have captured images of a small comet or asteroid as it impacted Jupiter at 00:18 UTC on March 17, 2016. The videos of the same event were captured from Austria and Ireland.
The object is probably in the tens-of-meters wide range, according to Phil Plait. "I know that sounds small, but remember, Jupiter has ferocious gravity, and velocity is critical here! The energy released by an object slamming into another depends linearly on the mass (double the mass, double the energy), but on the square of the velocity: double the velocity, quadruple the energy," Plait said.
Video courtesy of John McKeon
Video courtesy of Gerrit Kernbauer
"On average (and ignoring orbital velocity), an object will hit Jupiter with roughly five times the velocity it hits Earth, so the impact energy is 25 times as high. The asteroid that burned up over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 was 19 meters across, and it exploded with the energy of 500 000 tons of TNT. Now multiply that by 25, and you can see how it doesn’t take all that big a rock to hit Jupiter for us to be able to see it from Earth," Plait explained.
Such objects impact Jupiter 10 - 50 times per year, a recent study concluded.
Featured image credit: John McKeon. Annotation: TW.