‘Explosion’ on Jupiter: Did the Planet Take a Hit for Earth?

An amateur astronomer's discovery sheds light on Jupiter's role as a magnet for asteroids that have the potential to stray towards our planet.

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George Hall

Maybe we should all take a moment and thank Jupiter, since the planet is apparently taking a pummeling on our behalf.

Astronomers are checking their telescopes for records of a brief, brilliant flash of light on Jupiter, which they believe was a heavy-duty asteroid striking the gas giant.

(MORE: Dawn Craft to Depart Asteroid for Dwarf Planet)

After an impact in the early hours of Sept. 10 was spotted by an amateur astronomer in Oregon and reported on various astronomy forums, another stargazer from Dallas checked his recordings and found signs of an explosion lasting a couple of seconds—prompting other researchers to start investigating possible scars on the top layers of the planet’s gaseous surface for signs of the impact.

Jupiter’s extra-strong gravitational pull and its location near the Asteroid Belt means it’s suffered  its fair share of impacts — several similar ones, by objects estimated at 10 meters across, have been recorded since 2009.  The latest is an opportunity to study not only frequency with which Jupiter gets struck by small to medium-sized objects but also how it helps shield all of us here on Earth: the planet’s strong gravitational pull grabs passing asteroids and comets and pulls them in — and away from us. At the size of a school bus, an asteroid that size striking the Earth would release as much energy as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, although as scientists remarked during the study of one near-miss last year, it would also likely vaporize on contact with the atmosphere. While it’s impossible to tell at this point whether the object that struck Jupiter was on a collision course with Earth, researchers now believe that Jupiter is struck by similar-sized rocks on a regular basis.

“It’s kind of a scary proposition to see how often Jupiter gets hit,” George Hall, the Dallas astronomer who first corroborated the discovery, told NBC.

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