Jupiter has been described as the vacuum cleaner of the solar system. The planet’s powerful gravity sucks in comets and asteroids. They’re destroyed as they slam into Jupiter’s atmosphere. That keeps those objects from possibly threatening Earth and the other inner planets.
Scientists have seen several of these impacts. They’ve seen some of them directly, as bright flashes of light. For others, they’ve seen the aftermath — big, dark scars in Jupiter’s atmosphere.
One of the most recent impacts came last summer. Amateur astronomers in Asia saw a bright flash of light on August 28th. One of them even recorded the flash on video. It lasted several seconds.
An early analysis said the flash was similar to another one a couple of years earlier. It probably was the equivalent of a blast on Earth in 1908. Known as the Tunguska event, it occurred when an asteroid or comet exploded in the upper atmosphere. It leveled hundreds of square miles of Siberian forest.
The biggest impact yet seen on Jupiter took place in 1994. Jupiter’s gravity pulled apart a large comet. It then pulled in the remains, which created about a dozen big blasts. The scars from those impacts were visible for months.
Jupiter keeps company with the Moon the next couple of nights. It looks like a brilliant star. It’s to the left or upper left of the Moon tonight, and closer below the Moon tomorrow night.
Script by Damond Benningfield