Jupiter under fire
July 20, 2009 12:02 AM   Subscribe

Sunday morning amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley captured a photo of an apparent asteroid or comet strike on Jupiter. Alerted by the announcement on the ALPO-Jupiter email list, other amateurs soon posted follow-up images.

Coincidentally, the discovery came exactly fifteen years after Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit Jupiter, leaving a series of black impact clouds similar to the one discovered by Wesley.

If you're interested in keeping abreast of the latest observations of the planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Venus, the Sun, the Moon, comets, minor planets, and so on each have their own page and email list on the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers web site.

If you have a small telescope you can observe the impact yourself--Jupiter is perfectly placed for observing just now, rising about 10PM and setting about 8AM. Locater charts & info here.

(Note that some of the Jupiter photos also show the shadow of a moon, which is close to perfectly circular and near Jupiter's equator. The impact crater is near the south pole, which is at the top of most images. The impact crater is dark, but not as dark as the moon's shadow, and slightly fuzzy.)
posted by flug (39 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

Very cool.
posted by tellurian at 12:08 AM on July 20, 2009

My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Jupiter.
posted by pazazygeek at 12:12 AM on July 20, 2009 [79 favorites]

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:14 AM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Attempt no landings here, except in the Black Oval Zone.
posted by zippy at 12:25 AM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Whether they find life there or not, I think Jupiter should be considered an enemy planet.

- Jack Handey
posted by inconsequentialist at 12:30 AM on July 20, 2009

This is God's punishment for the Jups' tolerance of gxfgtrsexuality.
posted by Avenger at 12:32 AM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

Jupiter so fat. It's no wonder things are constantly crashing into its fat ass.
posted by Effigy2000 at 12:34 AM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

isn't this a year early?
posted by sexyrobot at 12:38 AM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, it's definitely not one of those fusion reactions from that plutonium brought in by the Galileo probe; nothing to worry about. Well, unless it starts looking like this.
posted by crapmatic at 12:58 AM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Everybody wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Teheran Jupiter.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 1:05 AM on July 20, 2009

crapmatic: I hope your link to an article quoting Richard Hoagland is a joke. It's conspiracy nonsense, as your second link correctly states.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:10 AM on July 20, 2009

I hadn't heard of the 'Lucifer project' before. Consider my mind well and truly boggled. Do no conspiracy theorists take time to take a breath and ask themselves, 'Why? Why would anyone want to carry out this bizarre and impossibly arcane plan?'?

This should be the first stop before they even try to contemplate the physical impossibilty/implausability of the crackpot scheme they've just dreamed up
posted by JustAsItSounds at 2:28 AM on July 20, 2009

Today we are all Jovians.
posted by CRM114 at 2:30 AM on July 20, 2009 [5 favorites]

Jupiter is 2.5 times more massive than all the other planets in our Solar System combined. I can't help but feel that it had this coming.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:46 AM on July 20, 2009

Actually, that asteroid may have had the same seed that brought life to our once dead planet. We could have photographic proof of artificial insemination of another world. I don't know about you, but I'm going to monitor this story for the next 4 billion years just so I can tell my grandchildren that I was there when Jupiter got lucky.
posted by birdwatcher at 3:00 AM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

I can't help but feel that it had this coming.

Well, I'm sorry Jupiter doesn't conform to your standards of size. I think Jupiter is beautiful just the way it is, and people should be more accepting of gas giants in general.
posted by CRM114 at 3:11 AM on July 20, 2009 [5 favorites]

people should be more accepting of gas giants in general

I friggin hate Rush Limbaugh, nothing you can say is going to fix that.

Did everyone know that Jupiter's moon Titan is actually the moon Olympus, cobbled together from spare planet parts after a collision with an Imperial battle cruiser? True story.
posted by maxwelton at 3:22 AM on July 20, 2009 [6 favorites]

I've always been really fascinated by Jupiter. It has no solid surface. There's a storm that is bigger than our entire planet. Jupiter is like the gentle giant in the solar system, but keeps taking shit from comets and old dilapidated spacecraft. One day someone's going to go too far and patience only lasts so long.
posted by sambosambo at 3:26 AM on July 20, 2009

Good show, mate. Space is a big place and amateurs can still do a lot of good work.
posted by DU at 4:58 AM on July 20, 2009

It was the only way to be sure.
posted by thinman at 5:21 AM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

Jupiter is 2.5 times more massive than all the other planets in our Solar System combined. I can't help but feel that it had this coming.

Go be fat somewhere else?
posted by codswallop at 5:51 AM on July 20, 2009

And this is newsworthy because ...
posted by birdwatcher at 2:56 AM on July 20

posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:53 AM on July 20, 2009 [13 favorites]

The Equatorial Region has always been at war with the South Polar Region.
posted by steef at 5:57 AM on July 20, 2009

*feels jovial*
posted by pracowity at 6:34 AM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Hurf durf comet eater.

Did I do this right?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:46 AM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

None of you have to go. We can all just sit here on Earth Jupiter, wait for this big rock to crash into it, kill everything and everybody we know. United States Jovian government just asked us to save the world. Anybody wanna say no?
posted by shakespeherian at 6:58 AM on July 20, 2009

I'm thinking of having my gas giant declawed. Is this a good idea?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:01 AM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by stevil at 7:32 AM on July 20, 2009

People of Jupiter, witness my new, more powerful asteroid cannon. A terrible catastrophe now awaits you. Unless one hundred million dollars are deposited in my Swiss bank account by next Friday, you can expect another asteroid to destroy another one of your major gas filled landmarks.
posted by Comrade_robot at 9:08 AM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some of the follow-up images don't appear as...believable as the first guy's stuff, but what do I know! At any rate, just glad that wasn't like my house or something...
posted by PuppyCat at 10:53 AM on July 20, 2009


saddly, whichever one you pick will probably suck. just like these shows did.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:23 AM on July 20, 2009

Why can't WE ever have an asteroid impact???

No, wait. . . .
posted by Danf at 11:29 AM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sheesh, the ALPO-Jupiter email list is always a day late and a dollar short when it comes to the latest Jovanian goings-on. Shit, I read about this on both the EUKENUBA and the IAMS lists like three hours before ALPO even heard about it.
posted by jeremy b at 2:05 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

NASA finally posts the infrared photos from Hawaii, confirming impact. Something took a swing at her, that's for sure. Spooky.
posted by steef at 6:35 PM on July 20, 2009

Some of the follow-up images don't appear as...believable as the first guy's stuff

These guys quite literally follow every jot and squiggle of Jupiter's weather on a continuous basis. (A few typical images.) Features persist for months, years, or even centuries and generally change quite slowly. There is a lot of discussion about whether a certain spot or loop is getting bigger or smaller or darker or lighter, or whatever.

So when a very obvious, very black dot suddenly appears in a certain spot and rotates with the adjacent features, and is confirmed by multiple observers, there is really no doubt that something "believable" happened. This is many, many times more plain and obvious than the subtle feature changes they routinely discuss. The only question would be--what is it?

As mentioned above, JPL has now imaged the spot as well.

You'll notice, though, that the JPL, nor any other large well-funded telescopes imaged it the first night. They depend on amateurs for routine observing and monitoring and (as a rule) only focus the "big guns" when something of particular interest is noted.

The race is on now to see if images of the asteroid or comet can be found retrospectively, in images from before impact that perhaps have not been examined yet (or examined carefully).
posted by flug at 7:17 PM on July 20, 2009

Just in case any of you are still wondering why this is particularly newsworthy . . .

One of the major questions that humankind might be interested in is this: Is the Earth under more or less continuous bombardment by objects from outer space?

Of course you look up at the moon and it looks sort of completely bombarded. Mars, more or less the same.

But you look around Earth and--hey, I don't see us surrounded by a bunch of impact craters, do you?

Even if you accept that planets, including Earth, were bombarded (a question has only been answered in the past 50 years as well), maybe that was all in the past and nowadays the time between significant impacts is a few hundred million years or some other such huge number--meaning there is no real need to worry our little heads about it.

People like Eugene Shoemaker have been looking at that issue and have come to conclusions that would have been startling even 50 years ago: There are indeed quite a lot of impact craters on earth (1, 2, 3, many), we are indeed under fairly constant bombardment, and it is indeed very, very worthwhile to ask the questions: What is likely to hit Earth in the (relatively) near future, and what, if anything, could we possibly do about it.

All this was really a fairly academic debate until 1994, when Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (co-discovered, not coincidentally by that same Eugene Shoemaker), which had broken into a large number of pieces during previous encounters with Jupiter, proceeded to slam all those pieces into Jupiter over a period of several days.

Each of the impact sites was (in round numbers) about the size of the Earth.

This is the first time a collision between celestial bodies like this had been observed. And it wasn't just "observed"--it was observed by millions directly (the impact zones were easily visible in small telescopes) and many millions more via TV and the internet. My wife & I watched from our driveway with our 6-inch Newtonian.

And, yeah, it made a big impact--no pun intended. It's not coincidence that those bad movies about asteroid impacts came out soon afterwards and the funding for funding and cataloging possibly earth-crossing objects was expanded by quite a bit.

Scientists who study the celestial objects regularly, and even more so regular folks, tend to view the heavens, planets, and other astronomical objects as very remote and unchanging objects. The planets move around their perfect elliptical orbits without any real variation and stars don't move noticeably (to the human eye, anyway) over hundreds and thousands of years. About the most excitement is the occasional dust-storm on Mars or maybe the Great Red Spot on Jupiter turning a slightly different color over the course of a decade or so.

We're not used to seeing those as things that change at all, or certainly not change quickly, or certainly not change dramatically in a way that you can easily envision affecting you personally.

But seeing Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit Jupiter in 1996 really did change all that. It was big, it was easily visible, it was sudden, and it was catastrophic.

But still--how often does something like that happen?

Probably not too often. Once in a lifetime? In a century? In a millennium?

Well, Wesley's discovery changes all that.

It happens pretty darn often. A lot more often than most of us would have guessed.

And now we know this, not in a "We collected the data and crunched the numbers and here is the answer" kind of a way, but in a completely visceral way.

We SAW it.

The solar system is still very much under bombardment. It's big, mean, and out to get us.

We SAW that.

This is one of the very basic facts about our world and universe--like the fact that numerous other stars have planets and planetary systems, like plate tectonics--that have been wondered about for ages and for which we have just worked out the answer within the past few decades.

And it's happening right now, right in front of us. Wesley's discovery Sunday morning is a lot like the first actual image of an extra-solar planet.

Yeah, we knew about it before, we've seen impacts before--but now we've seen MULTIPLE IMPACTS, much more frequent than we would have guessed, happen right in front of our eyes.

If you haven't seen it yourself already, compare these two views, which show the same features of Jupiter before and after impact: Before, after.
posted by flug at 8:42 PM on July 20, 2009 [6 favorites]

Wow. That's a big fuckin' hole.
posted by humannaire at 10:56 PM on July 20, 2009

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