Wednesday, 22 July 2009 Irene Klotz
The smash - captured here in a NASA image - was first noticed by an Australian amateur astronomer (Source: NASA/JPL/Infrared Telescope Facility)
Click to view image: 'The smash - captured here in a NASA image'
Fifteen years after being battered by Comet Shoemaker-Levy, Jupiter has drawn the fire of another renegade body.
A dark scar near the planet's southern polar region, first noticed by an amateur astronomer in Australia, is believed to have been caused by a comet crashing into the giant planet.
Infrared images taken by a NASA telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, show a dark scar-like patch and a bright shower of debris particles in the planet's upper atmosphere.
The impact site also shows a warming in the planet's troposphere, and possibly higher levels of ammonia gas.
"On Friday night I was imaging the same area that I was imaging Sunday night so I could tell pretty quickly when I saw this black mark coming into view that it was something that wasn't there when I last looked two days before," says amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley, who discovered the crash site on July 19 from outside his home observatory near Murrumbateman, NSW Australia.
Wesley also watched the 1994 impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter, which was in a temporary orbit around the planet before it broke apart, giving observers nine months to a year advance notice.
"We saw visually the huge fireball that came up over the limb of Jupiter when that major [Shoemaker-Levy] fragment hit ... It showed up as a white star right next to Jupiter, but of course in reality it was a huge fireball happening," says Wesley.
"This one is substantially smaller. As far as we can tell there is only one main impact point. It's possible there may be other several tiny marks around the area, which are either secondary impact points or debris from the primary."
"In terms of scale, if something like that had happened on Earth, I think it would have been a major catastrophe," says Wesley.
The size of the body that struck Jupiter has not yet been determined, nor its exact time of impact. The impact site has spread now to a region about the size of Earth, says Wesley.
"It's quite a large impact mark, although of course ... on the Jupiter-scale of things, it's only a very tiny mark. What we're seeing is a black mark about the size of Earth," he said.
Ray Villard, spokesman with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland says NASA is preparing to use Hubble Space Telescope later this week to get a look at the impact site.
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Tags: NASA, confirms, Jupiter, smash, Comet, telescope, Australia, Hawaii, impact
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