Astrophotography is a time-consuming but rewarding hobby. The long and arduous process of capturing amazing stellar images isn’t as simple as just pointing a telescope at the sky and clicking a button. It involves hours of exposures and compositing multiple images together to get a single impressive picture. Imagine one hobbyist’s surprise when he realized he had managed to capture the split-second flash of what is probably a meteor impact on Jupiter completely by chance.
Early yesterday morning, George Hall had brought his telescope out to take some pictures for a composite of Jupiter. Around that same time, another amateur astronomer named George Peterson spotted a bright flash on Jupiter while looking at it through an eyepiece. He immediately reported it to yet another astronomer, who then relayed the sighting to an online astronomy forum focused on observations of the moon and Jupiter. When Hall saw the chatter about the flash online, he decided to go back and look over his footage. Sure enough, he had captured the flash on video. As he told NBC News’s Cosmic Log, he never would have checked if he hadn’t seen the reports online.
In all likelihood the bright flash was from a comet or meteor impacting Jupiter’s atmosphere. At this point both professional and amateur astronomers are waiting for the impact area to come back around in order to see if there is any of the telltale black scarring in the upper atmosphere to confirm the impact, and to gauge its size. Judging by the brightness of the flash, it looks like Jupiter was again doing its job as gatekeeper to the inner solar system and protecting Earth from another planet-killer impact.
The moral of today’s story: be thankful for Jupiter.