Earth is pretty lucky when it comes to being missed by potentially deadly bits of space rock, but that's not the case with Jupiter. It's a much bigger target, and things that might go right by us tend to slam into it, most recently on Monday. And this time, someone got it on video.
The impact was first spotted at about 6:35 a.m. Eastern time by amateur astronomer Dan Peterson of Racine, Wis., who just happened to have his telescope trained on Jupiter at the time. He described what he saw as a flash of light lasting 1.5 to two seconds.
"My best guess is that it was a small undetected comet that is now history, hopefully it will sign its name on Jupiter's cloud tops," Peterson wrote on an astronomy forum, referring to the possibility that the impact will leave a mark in Jupiter's clouds like previous impacts.
The video of the impact surfaced later, when another amateur astronomer, George Hall of Dallas, Texas, realized cameras he kept trained on the planet might have caught the flash. He was right.
The impact was the fourth reported strike on Jupiter in just over three years, including one in the summer of 2009 that left a hole in the clouds the size of the Pacific Ocean (yup, Jupiter really is that big). But only this one was caught on video, and some enthusiasts hope that will encourage others to keep their eyes out for further evidence of such impacts.
"The popularity of modern digital imaging combined with the tenacity and hard work of dedicated planetary observers has paid off yet again with a visual report of a fireball event in Jupiter's atmosphere being reported visually and then being confirmed by stills from a movie sequence," said astronomer and astrophotographer Pete Lawrence. "The fact that such events have now been reported before may be a catalyst for visual observers to keep watch for them."
So, if you've got the tech, pick a planet and shoot some video. You might see something really cool.