June 4, 2010

Amateur Astronomer Spots Flash On Jupiter

An amateur astronomer in Australia reported witnessing a bright flash from an object hitting Jupiter and apparently burning up in the atmosphere.

"When I saw the flash, I couldn't believe it," said amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley. "The fireball lasted about 2 seconds and was very bright."

Wesley, a computer programmer with a good reputation among professional astronomers, recently made professional and amateur sky-gazers aware of the cosmic collision.  Another amateur astronomer in the Philippines then confirmed the discovery.

Wesley earned respect last year when he spotted a scar the size of the Pacific Ocean near Jupiter's south pole, which has believed to be caused by an asteroid smacking into the planet.  NASA scientists were able to use an infrared telescope in Hawaii in order to find evidence of Wesley's witnessing.

That latest hit near the equator has not left any visible mark so far, but astronomers are on the lookout.

The absence of a detectable gash and the short impact time leads scientists to believe Jupiter was hit by a meteor.

"We've never seen a meteor slam into Jupiter," Glenn Orton of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory told The Associated Press.

The latest collision should give astronomers a better idea of the size of debris floating in the outer solar system.

Jupiter was bombarded by pieces of the comet Shoemaker Levy 9 in 1994.