Jupiter Dusts Self Off, Gets Back to Work

Whatever hit Jupiter last weekend, it has a lot of Jovians hopping mad, and a lot of astronomers on Earth trying to figure out what happened.

There are new images of the Earth-sized scar where something -- perhaps a small comet or meteoroid -- apparently plowed into the clouds near Jupiter's south pole on Sunday. Take a look at this infrared picture, shot by the Gemini North telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii:

The impact point is the orange feature near the bottom center of Jupiter's disc in this image. The picture was created by combining two different infrared images.

"At these wavelengths we receive thermal radiation (heat) from the planet's upper atmosphere," said Imke de Pater of the University of California, Berkeley, in a statement. "The impact site is clearly much warmer than its surroundings, as shown by our image."

Credit where credit is due: Imke de Pater (UC Berkeley), Heidi B. Hammel (Space Science Institute), Travis Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), Gemini Observatory/AURA.

Meanwhile, here's the picture that started it all, shot on Sunday by Anthony Wesley, an amateur astronomer in Australia who realized there was something new on Jupiter, and alerted the rest of the world.

In this shot, the south pole of Jupiter is at the top, and the impact spot -- much less prominent -- is the tiny dark dot just below the pole.

Wesley's description -- including mention of what happened to his blog when his post was linked by Slashdot.org -- makes good reading, and it's HERE.

Should we Earthlings be worried? We we reported on Tuesday (click HERE) Jupiter's powerful winds will quickly dissipate the impact spot. The object, whatever it was, went undetected from Earth -- but keep in mind that nobody down here is regularly looking out for Jupiter's welfare, the way astronomers are cataloging Near Earth Objects (look HERE) that might someday hit us. If the object had been wandering around our part of the inner solar system (nearly half a billion miles from Jupiter), space scientists say we probably would have noticed it. Whether, with current technology, we would have been able to do anything about it, is another matter.

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