Update 5:13pm 07/20/09: JPL observations confirm Jupiter impact:
Following up on a tip by an amateur astronomer that a new dark “scar” had suddenly appeared on Jupiter, this morning between 3 and 9 a.m. PDT (6 a.m. and noon EDT) scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., using NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility at the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, gathered evidence indicating an impact.
New infrared images show the likely impact point was near the south polar region, with a visibly dark “scar” and bright upwelling particles in the upper atmosphere detected in near-infrared wavelengths, and a warming of the upper troposphere with possible extra emission from ammonia gas detected at mid-infrared wavelengths.
Images depicting a mysterious dark spot on Jupiter are starting to come in from amateur astronomers around the world. According to Anthony Wesley, the Australian astronomer who first reported the find on Sunday, July 19, 2009, the dark blot in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere is an impact mark.
Yes, you read that right, initial reports are beginning to confirm the very real possibility that earth-based telescopes have once again imaged the remnants of either an asteroid or cometary impact with Jupiter. According to Wesley:
Glenn Orton from JPL has imaged this site using the NASA Infrared Telescope on Hawaii and confirms that it is an impact site and not a localised weather event.
You may recall the 1994 Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts as the last time the world witnessed an impact on the solar system’s largest planet. It looks like it has happened again, albeit with a smaller object, and with no prior warning.
Professional astronomers are currently working to point their telescopes at Jupiter in the coming days in a continuing effort to confirm that the dark spot is an actual impact site and not some kind of weather phenomenon.
Wesley has set up a mirror site with additional images.
Infrared image: NASA/JPL/Infrared Telescope Facility
Color image: Anthony Wesley