In the past few years, NASA’s Juno spacecraft has been hovering around Jupiter, taking images and measuring the largest planets in the solar system. Juno recently reached the end of its scheduled mission, but NASA has updated it for at least a few years. There are many things to see in and around Jupiter, such as the asteroid impact that Juno captured in 2020.
Jupiter is a huge planet with a correspondingly huge gravitational force. Therefore, it will be hit by a lot of space debris. However, Rohini Giles of the Southwest Research Institute said that most of these small effects are so small and short-lived that they are rarely seen. Giles is the lead author of a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, which laid the foundation for this rare impact detection.
According to Giles, the brilliance from the end of 2020 stands out in the data. Juno spent a lot of time scanning Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field and aurora, but the flash on April 10, 2020 has a different spectral signature. It lasted only 17 milliseconds, but it was much longer than the transient luminescence event (TLE) common in Jupiter’s upper atmosphere. As shown by the probe’s ultraviolet spectrometer (UVS), the spectral characteristics are also very different.
The Giles team concluded that this bright flash (shown above) came from an asteroid or comet that fell into Jupiter’s atmosphere and exploded when it heated up. Based on the brightness of the flash, the research team estimated the mass of the object to be 550 to 3,300 pounds (249 to 1,496 kilograms), making it too small to leave any traces on the gas giant. In 1994, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit Jupiter, but it was more than a mile away. After the impact, the research team followed up and found that the visible scars and X-ray radiation had disappeared for several months.
These effects can even have a major impact on large planets. 15 years after the shoemaker taxed 9 years, that object is still responsible for 95% of Jupiter’s stratosphere water. If the unnamed 2020 impactors cause any local effects, Juno will not be able to detect them. However, Juno still has a few years to pay attention to more space rocks entering the earth.