Jupiter Gets Hit by Asteroids and Comets More Often Than You Might Think

The massive gas giant that is Jupiter sits anywhere between 365 million miles and 601 million miles away from Earth depending on where it’s at in its orbit. Because of its size, Jupiter is a favorite target for amateur astronomers all over the world. I was blown away the first time I saw it through my Celestron 8-inch telescope.

Seeing Jupiter through a telescope is special, but a pair of amateur astronomers saw something even more special. What appears to be an impact on Jupiter was recorded on March 17 by Gerrit Kernbauer. Check out the video below. Look at the right edge of Jupiter just above its center.

A second video verifies the impact.

How cool is that? John Mckeon, he captured the second video, used an 11-inch SCT telescope. He doesn’t specify the exact model, but you can find 11-inch SCT Celestron telescopes for about $2,700.

How often does Jupiter get smacked by asteroids and comets?

Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait says the gas giant gets hit about once per year. Be sure to check out the rest of his post where he dives into why asteroids and comets hit harder on Jupiter compared to Earth.

Did you know: Scientists used to think impact events on Jupiter were extremely rare. When Shoemaker-Levy 9 scared Jupiter in 1994, NASA thought they were witnessing a 1 in 100-year event. “We considered ourselves extraordinarily lucky to witness the SL-9 event,” said NASA’s Don Yeomans back in 2010.

comet shoemaker levy approaching Jupiter

Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 approaching Pluto. Credit: ESA

It turns out, Jupiter impacts happen much more frequently. In 2010, amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley spotted two Jupiter impact events over a 12-month span. The gas giant may be hit even more often since we can’t see what’s happening on the night side of the planet.

One interesting thing to note about this month’s impact is the seemingly lack of an impact ‘scar.’ You might remember the cloud scars from the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact years ago.

comet shoemaker levy impact debris

Impact debris from Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. Credit: NASA

But not every impact creates a scar. The June 3, 2010 impact on Jupiter also didn’t create one. Why? The best guess is the object was too small to create any cloud debris. Big enough for a visible flash, but small enough to not show any evidence of the impact. It looks like this month’s object was also small.

We’ll never know what exactly hit Jupiter. Was it a comet (made of ice), or an asteroid (more rock and metal)? The fact that we even have these videos to see it is good enough for me.

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