Something just slammed into Jupiter – but no one is sure what

Something just slammed into Jupiter – but no one is sure what

Something just slammed into Jupiter – but no one is sure what

An illustration of Jupiter
What just hit Jupiter? (Picture: Getty/Science Photo Libra)

A mystery object has been caught on camera slamming into Jupiter, disappearing in a huge flash as it burnt up in the Gas Giant’s turbulent atmosphere.

The striking shot was captured by Kunihiko Suzuki on November 15.


Jupiter is actually hit fairly regularly by flying objects, and to be honest, that’s kind of its own fault. The solar system’s biggest resident is so massive that all manner of cosmic objects are caught in its gravitational force.

Space rocks from the Asteroid Belt and Kuiper Belt regularly bombard the planet, and scientists estimate that Jupiter gets hit by objects between five and 20 metres wide around 12 to 60 times a year.

Objects larger than 100 metres are likely to impact Jupiter every few years. That’s approximately 10,000 times larger than the impact rate of similar objects on Earth.

When objects do hit Jupiter, they’re much more energetic because the planet’s gravity accelerates the objects to huge speeds, creating blinding flashes of light.


Earlier this year another impact was captured by amateur astronomers, and that too is still a mystery.

And we have the most spectacular Jupiter collision of all to thank for Earth’s own planetary defence systems.

In 1994, comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL9) broke apart and collided with the planet after being spotted a year earlier.

Jupiter collision
Nasa’s Infrared Telescope Facility captures the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet impacting Jupiter’s night side in July of 1994 (Picture: Nasa/JPL)

The impact was so large that it scarred the surface with a series of dark spots that were visible for months, a ‘freight train’ of fragments smashing into the planet with the force of 300 million atomic bombs.

The event was a wake-up call to Nasa – if Jupiter was vulnerable to cosmic collisions, maybe Earth was too. Had the comet hit Earth instead, it would have been devastating – much like the impact believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Before the SL9 impact, the term ‘planetary defence’ didn’t exist. These days, many teams of scientists are tracking near-Earth objects (NEOs), asteroids that come within 30 million miles of Earth’s orbit.

The moment something slammed into Jupiter
The moment something slammed into Jupiter (Picture: Kunihiko Suzuki)

And if you’re wondering why the videos of these collisions are so wobbly, it isn’t because of an unsteady telescope. When observing space from Earth, warm air moving around the atmosphere interferes with the light reflected back from space – hence why astronomers need telescopes in space like the James Webb and Hubble for the best, clearest views.


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