Cosmic objects hit Jupiter up to 6.5 times each year, scientists estimate. The impacts are large enough to be seen from Earth.
This current number of impacts is lower than what was previously estimated in earlier research. The scientists hope that more objects will be observed in the coming years as detection strategies improve.
The observations of Jupiter were made by a group of 60 amateur astronomers around the world established by Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure, a project at the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur in Nice, France, founded to combine and support planetary science activities. According to the project’s scientists, amateur astronomers who observe impacts on the largest planet in the solar system can cover events that professional scientists may miss.
“Dramatic impacts with Jupiter can be captured with standard amateur equipment and analysed with easy-to-use software,” says Marc Delcroix, the coordinator of this group of amateur astronomers. “But to get a good estimate of how often these events occur, we need observers around the world who are willing to collaborate to create a programme of more-or-less continuous monitoring of Jupiter.”
Meteors that impact Jupiter’s upper atmosphere can cause impressive fireballs. However, since starting out three years ago, the amateur group of scientists from the US, Australia, and Europe has collected around 53,000 videos with a total time equivalent of up to 56 days without finding a single fireball.
Nevertheless, thanks to other amateur scientists John McKeon and Gerrit Kernbauer, the latest series of fireballs in Jupiter was observed on March 17. This proves how collaboration from those who are not even part of the group is important in gathering more data about Jupiter.
The scientists expect to increase their impact observations with the use of both bigger and smaller telescopes in the coming years. They hope to detect at least one impact flashes in Jupiter.
“Plans to improve our detection methods and perform systematic searches will help us to detect more of these objects,” asserts University of the Basque Country’s Ricardo Hueso, the chair of the project’s scientific organising committee. “That will allow us to know more about the current architecture of the outer Solar System and the role of Jupiter in protecting the Earth from comparable impacts.”