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A small asteroid bounces Jupiter into a huge bolt of lightning



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The apparent moment of impact on the largest world of the solar system.


Ethan Chappel

A amateur astronomer captured a lightning bolt in the Jupiter atmosphere last month, which appeared as a bright spot in the size of Earth compared to the gas giant planet. A new analysis of the footage revealed that the short flare was caused by a relatively small asteroid.

A slow-motion GIF of lightning that lightens and fades in the left center of the planet.


Ethan Chappel / EPSC

Ethan Chappel recorded the 1.5-second lightning on Aug. 7 with a telescope in his backyard in Texas. At its peak, it matched the brightness of Jupiter's moon Io.

Ramanakumar Sankar and Csaba Palotai of the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) analyzed the data to estimate that lightning could have been caused by an impact of a stone asteroid between 12 and 16 meters in diameter or about the size of a large bus , The object probably had a mass of about 450 tons and released the equivalent of an explosion of 240 kilotons of TNT as it crashed into the upper atmosphere of Jupiter some 80 kilometers above the planet's clouds.

That's about half of the energy released by the Bolide, which exploded over Russia in 2013 when it broke in the atmosphere triggering a shockwave that shook thousands of windows in the city of Chelyabinsk.

These new findings were presented on Monday at a congress of the Congress of the European Planet Society in Geneva.

Ricardo Hueso, a physicist at the University of the Basque Country in Spain, is one of the developers of an open-source software package called DeTeCt, designed specifically to identify effects on Jupiter. With DeTeCt Chappel analyzed his video about the impact in August. According to Hueso, the impact seems to be the second-brightest of the six since 2010.

"Most of these objects hit Jupiter without being detected by observers on Earth," Hueso said. "However, we estimate that 20 to 60 similar objects affect Jupiter every year."

If that's the case, it shows a lot of light that no one is witnessing, including some that may be even brighter than the planetary lightning we saw last month.


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