Large fireball observed after object strikes Jupiter

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

A similar impact occurred last July after a large asteroid collided into the planet.

A large object, possibly an asteroid or a meteor, hit the planet Jupiter Thursday, resulting in a large fireball.

The fireball was seen on June 3 at 2031 UTC by two independent amateur astronomers, Christopher Go in the Philippines and Anthony Wesley in Australia. Wesley, who posted the news onto an Internet forum, is known for having also spotted last July's Jupiter impact event. Go caught Thursday's impact on video, which showed a fireball the size of Earth after the object hit. It could be the first time someone has recorded a meteor crashing into a planet.

This latest strike came only hours after a team from the Space Science Institute, led by astronomer Heidi Hammel, announced that last year's event was the result of an asteroid 1,640 feet (500 metres) wide. That asteroid caused a scar the size of the Pacific Ocean when it hit Jupiter with the force of several thousand nuclear bombs on July 19, 2009.

The planet last experienced a major impact in July 1994, when it was hit by Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL9), resulting in large scars as well. Scientists originally thought that there would not be any more Jupiter strikes for several centuries following SL9, but have now been proved wrong twice in as many years.

Now, astronomers around the world are trying to figure out what kind of mark Thursday's collision left on the planet, as well as determine exactly what hit it. Although the impact is believed to be relatively small, a dark debris field may soon appear in the clouds around Jupiter, which is what occurred in 2009.