The fall of an asteroid on Jupiter caused an explosion by the force of a nuclear bomb

Last week, Japanese astronomers noticed a bright flash in the atmosphere of Jupiter. The flash turned out to be a powerful explosion, caused by the fall of an asteroid on the planet. The explosion was estimated at two megatons of TNT equivalent. Moreover, the mass of the cosmic body that collided with Jupiter was estimated at 4 thousand tons. This is reported by The Astrophysical Journal Letters, referring to an article in the arXiv.

A color image of a flash on Jupiter. Photo: PONCOTS

Jupiter was observed by the Planetary ObservatioN Camera for Optical Transient Surveys (PONCOTS) system. The observation was conducted by a team of scientists from the universities of Kyoto, Tokyo, the Aerospace Research Agencies of Japan and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. The event took place on October 15, 2021, but scientists have publicly told about this case only now.

The brightest flash in the last 28 years

The explosion as a result of the collision was comparable to the force of an explosion of a nuclear bomb with a capacity of two megatons. The flash temperature as a result of the collision was estimated at 8000 °C. The 4-ton body was relatively small – from 15.8 to 31.5 meters in diameter. The space fragment reached a speed of 60 km/s before the collision. The flash from the collision lasted about 5.5 seconds and was 300 times brighter than the light of the Sun hitting Jupiter.

Animation of a flash on Jupiter. Image: New Scientist

The power of the explosion can be compared with the fall of the Tunguska meteorite to Earth in 1908. The Jupiter flare was the brightest impact event in the Solar System observed since 1994, when the remnants of comet Shoemaker—Levy 9 fell on the planet. 

Reliable Solar System Shield

Various celestial bodies often fall on Jupiter. Astronomers observe these events in the form of flashes in the optical range. It is believed that the main source of Jupiter collisions is a group of short-period comets near the orbit of the gas giant. Since 2010, astronomers have recorded six bright shock flares, which, together with a new one from 2021, have helped scientists improve estimates of the frequency of such events on Jupiter. 

In general, Jupiter is a reliable shield for the planets of the inner Solar system. Its huge gravity saves us, attracting most of the dangerous asteroids and comets, which without our giant planet could most likely collide with the Earth.

Follow us on Twitter to get the most interesting space news in time