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Hubble Images Suggest Rogue Asteroid Smacked Jupiter

Copyright NASA

Without warning, a mystery object struck Jupiter on July 19, 2009, leaving a dark bruise the size of the Pacific Ocean. The spot first caught the eye of an amateur astronomer in Australia, and soon, observatories around the world, including NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, were zeroing in on the unexpected blemish.

Astronomers had witnessed this kind of cosmic event before. Similar scars had been left behind during the course of a week in July 1994, when more than 20 pieces of Comet P/Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL9) plunged into Jupiter’s atmosphere. The 2009 impact occurred during the same week, 15 years later.

Astronomers who compared Hubble images of both collisions say the culprit may have been an asteroid about 1,600 feet (500 meters) wide. The images, therefore, may show for the first time the immediate aftermath of an asteroid, rather than a comet, striking another planet.

The Jupiter bombardments reveal that the solar system is a rambunctious place, where unpredictable events may occur more frequently than first thought.

“This solitary event caught us by surprise, and we can only see the aftermath of the impact, but fortunately we do have the 1994 Hubble observations that [...]

Hubble captures rare Jupiter collision

Hubble captures rare Jupiter collision

Copyright ESA

The checkout and calibration of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has been interrupted to aim the recently refurbished observatory at a new expanding spot on the giant planet Jupiter. The spot, caused by the impact of a comet or an asteroid, is changing from day to day in the planet’s cloud tops.

For the past several days the world’s largest telescopes have been trained on Jupiter. Not to miss the potentially new science in the unfolding drama 580 million kilometres away, Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, allocated discretionary time to a team of astronomers led by Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

The Hubble picture, taken on 23 July, is the sharpest visible-light picture taken of the feature and is Hubble’s first science observation following its repair and upgrade in May. Observations were taken with Hubble’s new camera, the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3).

“This is just one example of what Hubble’s new, state-of-the-art camera can do, thanks to the hard work of the astronauts and the entire Hubble team”, said Ed Weiler, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Fortunately, the best is yet to [...]

Happy New Year from Jupiter!


Copyright ESA

As the year draws to a close international teams of scientists have been enjoying a unique opportunity to make co-ordinated observations of the largest planet in our Solar System. The NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens spacecraft made its closest approach to Jupiter, around 9.7 million kilometres, yesterday morning.

NASA’s Galileo spacecraft has already been orbiting Jupiter since 1995. Scientists using instruments on both Cassini-Huygens and Galileo gave a preview at a press conference at JPL of what they are beginning to discover from their joint studies.

Large storms on Jupiter, which can be larger than those on Earth and last for centuries, gain energy from swallowing smaller storms, preliminary analysis of Jupiter movies taken by Cassini-Huygens suggest. The smaller storms pull their energy from lower depths, according to information collected by Galileo.

The joint observations continue for another three months, but Cassini-Huygens is already speeding onwards towards the final destination of its seven-year interplanetary cruise, Saturn. This final planetary swing-by was vital to allow it to acquire the velocity needed to reach Saturn.

Even at such a vast distance the gravity of Jupiter is sufficient to bend Cassini-Huygens’ trajectory and re-direct it to Saturn. During the flyby ESA’s Huygens probe is [...]

Uncovering the mysteries of Jupiter's aurora


This week European and American researchers seize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gather simultaneous observations from the NASA/ESA Cassini/Huygens space mission and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

After years of waiting, an international team of researchers will receive an early Christmas present this week – a close-up look at the mysterious aurora surrounding Jupiter and a chance to gather valuable data about how the aurora behaves. The goal of these concerted efforts is to combine solar wind measurements with images to determine how the solar wind influences the aurorae around Jupiter. That information may in turn help researchers understand some of the differences between Jupiter and Earth.

As the NASA/ESA Cassini spacecraft makes its closest approach to Jupiter – approximately 10 million kilometres, compared with a distance of 600 million kilometres from Earth – researchers have a rare opportunity to gather data and images about the aurora simultaneously from Cassini and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

They will be able to conduct a real-time experiment from a distance of 600 million kilometres. The experiment uses instruments aboard Cassini to take direct measurements of the solar wind to determine the pressure exerted by these winds on Jupiter. Meanwhile Hubble will capture [...]