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Citizen scientists capture video of large object crashing into Jupiter

14:19 30 March 2016 Author :  

 Two amateur astronomers in different parts of the world captured what looks like an asteroid or comet impacting Jupiter on March 17.

The independent videos — captured by John Mckeon and Gerrit Kernbauer on March 17 — show something slamming into Jupiter on its right side. The Jovian impact — which wasfirst reportedby Phil Plait atSlateand confirmed by Mashable — looks like a small flash just above Jupiter's distinctive clouds before disappearing.

The giant planet — the largest in our solar system — is bombarded by space rocks pretty regularly.

For instance, Jupiter was hit by a series of comet fragments in 1994 when the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke apart and then slammed into the world, and that wasn't the only time Jupiter was hit with some solar system debris.

Since theShoemaker-Levy 9event, scientists have seen five other impacts at Jupiter, according to astronomer Heidi Hammel.

"Jupiter watchers have since seen a big impact site in 2009 subsequently imaged by Hubble, two bright-flash events in 2010, another bright-flash event in 2012, and now this bright-flash event in 2016," Hammel toldMashable.

Hammel added that having both videos gives scientists confidence that Jupiter "was yet again the site of a cosmic collision."

Scientists are now working on piecing together the size of the object that caused the bright flash to erupt from Jupiter. Researchers did calculations, as with previous impacts at Jupiter in 2010 and 2012, Hammel said, but they aren't yet sure of the size of the impactor for this event.

"Those earlier flashes were probably caused by an object roughly 10 meters across, so this one might turn out to be about the same size," Hammel said. "Stay tuned. For comparison, we think Shoemaker-Levy 9 was probably a mile across before it broke up and crashed into Jupiter."

Citizen scientists like Mckeon and Kernbauer can leave a mark on space science with observations like these.

"Amateur astronomers make fundamental contributions to astronomy research, and this recent observation of an impact on Jupiter is a perfect example of why," Emily Lakdawalla, senior editor at the Planetary Society, told Mashable.

"Professional astronomers have only limited time on large telescopes, which means that they can take exquisitely detailed observations but can't spend long staring at one target in the sky; time on major telescopes is simply too valuable."

The internet has also changed the way amateur astronomers communicate their findings, spreading them far and wide.

Plait put out acall on Twitterasking if anyone else caught sight of the Jupiter impact seen by Kernbauer on March 17. Other users responded with a link to the Mckeon video, which confirmed the discovery.

"In this particular case, amateurs had webcams pointed at Jupiter for hours and so were able to gather enough data over a long period of time to fortuitously glimpse the impact," Lakdawalla said.

Space enthusiasts also usediscussion boardsto post videos and ask questions about possible things they've seen during nighttime observations.

"Without the internet, forums, social media, communication between amateurs (and pros) worldwide would not be so effective. It took a few days to find a confirming video. One observer from Austria, one from Ireland, confirmed the impact within days," amateur astronomer Jan Hattenbach told Mashable. "Would not have happened in pre-internet days."

View phNeither Mckeon, based in Ireland, norKernbauer, who lives in Austria, were out to catch some kind of impact in action.

In fact, Mckeon didn't even know what he'd seen on March 17.

"I was surprised to learn I had this data," Mckeon told Mashable via email. "I only realized it after a Facebook update on March 28 about an observer in Austria (Gerrit Kernbauer) seeing an impact on Jupiter."

"I remembered that I had been observing Jupiter the same night. Within minutes I had gone through a few of my video captures from March 17 and there it was!"

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