Emily LakdawallaJun 04, 2010

The June 3 Jupiter Impact: 22 hours later

Time to take stock of what happened a day ago. The worldwide, round-the-clock nature of planetary science is both exhilarating and challenging! As a part-time blogger and full-time mom I'm only supposed to be at my computer four hours a day, but last night my poor kids had to put up with a mommy feeding and caring for them with one hand while I wore out the Refresh button on my Netbook with the other, searching for updates on both IKAROS' sail deployment and the latest on yesterday's impact flash on Jupiter. Now that it's back to regular business hours I'm hereby putting together a (hopefully) more coherent account of what has happened, and where I'll be watching for more information.

So, what happened? Here's a rundown of events. (Links to sources are at the end of this article.)

  • At 20:31:29 UTC on June 3, 2010, two amateur astronomers, Anthony Wesley in Australia and Christopher Go in the Philippines, independently recorded a bright flash on Jupiter, lasting two seconds.
  • Wesley actually witnessed the flash in real time -- "Couldn't believe it," he said -- and reported it less than an hour later on an amateur astronomy forum, IceInSpace.com.au.
  • Christopher Go was also recording video at the time; when he received an alert from Wesley, he checked his video and confirmed the existence of the flash.
  • The flash was located in Jupiter's South Equatorial Belt -- the one that recently faded from red to white -- at latitude 16.1°S, longitude L2 = 342.7°, L3 = 159.4°
  • Neither Go's nor Wesley's images reveal any unusual mark in Jupiter's atmosphere at the location of the flash after the flash had dissipated. Within thirty minutes, Jupiter's rotation took the location of the flash out of view from Earth.
  • Jupiter's rotation brought the flash back into view around 3:30 UT on June 4, so observers in Europe were able to look for a scar. To date, no one has reported seeing any mark on Jupiter as a result of the impact.
  • By the time skies were dark and Jupiter high in American skies, the impact site had rotated out of view again. (Jupiter's "day" is about 10 Earth hours long.)
  • Several large observatories in Hawaii -- Gemini, Keck, and IRTF -- attempted to view the impact site at the next opportunity, around 15:00 UTC June 4. No word yet on what they saw -- stay tuned!

Here are Wesley's and Go's processed, lovely RGB images of the impact flash, along with links to their videos. It is common now for amateur astronomers to record digital video at high frame rates when they observe; Wesley's frame rate was 60 frames per second. That allows them to pick the best images out of hundreds during split-second moments when Earth's atmosphere stills, permitting a sharper view of the target.

Jupiter on June 3, 2010: Impact flash recorded by Anthony Wesley
Jupiter on June 3, 2010: Impact flash recorded by Anthony Wesley Australian amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley was observing Jupiter at 20:31 UTC on June 3, 2010 when he fortuitously caught the flash of some object hitting the planet.Image: Anthony Wesley

I will of course be watching for any further developments on the search for a scar. I'll post any updates here; I'll wait to accumulate information before I write a new blog post.

Sources for the above roundup:

The Planetary Fund

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