Amateur Astronomers Catch a “Crash” Into Jupiter

30 Mar 2016

OSR blog post

Jupiter is in prime position this month to be observed by professional and novice astronomers alike. But it wasn’t NASA that captured this amazing occurrence, but two amateur astronomers that were viewing the right place at the right time.

This full-disc image of Jupiter was taken on 21 April 2014 with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3).

NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This full-disc image of Jupiter was taken on 21 April 2014 with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3).

Gerrit Kernbaur from Mödling, Austria was observing Jupiter on March 17th, 2016, using a Sky-Watcher 8-inch f/5 Newtonian. But since the viewing at the time was not optimal, he wasn’t in a hurry to process his findings. However, when he did ten days later, what he saw was astounding! A flash of light so fleeting that it can barely be noticed just on the west edge of Jupiter in line with Galilean moons Europa and Io. From Kernbaur’s calculations, the event occurred at 00:18:33 UTC and only lasted for a mere second.

So did anyone else witness this exciting event?

Just 1,045 miles to the west in Swords (north of Dublin) Irish amateur John McKeon was also recording Jupiter. He was using his Celestron 11-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope with a ASI 120mm camera equipped with an infrared filter. This setup ran for a 3.5-hour video time-lapse of the planet and its Galilean moons. He recorded this amazing event at night and calculated the time to be 00:18:45 UTC.

So what did these lucky viewers witness? Although, there is a slight discrepancy between Kernbaur and McKeon’s timings, it is certain that they recorded the same phenomenon. Whether that blimp on the screen was an impact of a comet or an asteroid is not certain and very well may never be determined, whatever it was, doesn’t appear to have left its mark in the churning cloud tops of Jupiter. But that doesn’t make it any less phenomenal or interesting.

Kudos to these two lucky astronomers that timing was impeccable, for we get to witness one of those rare moments we know must happen, but never have the privilege of witnessing.