Jupiter Was Just Clobbered By Something Enormous

Senior Contributor
03.29.16 11 Comments

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What you’re seeing up above is a video of something that hit Jupiter so hard, you could see it from space. That little gleam on the side was an explosion so big you could see it from 400 million miles away. So, what hit Jupiter, and how was it so intense?

The answer is likely an asteroid or comet, and probably a tiny one by celestial standards, small enough that it wasn’t named or tracked. So, why the big, big boom? Physics. Jupiter has two and a half times the gravity of Earth, and that means anything sucked into it is moving at a much faster velocity. If two people of the same size and weight were pulled into the atmosphere of both Earth and Jupiter, the Earthboard human would be heading towards the planet at 250 feet a second or so, while the Jupiter-bound one would be moving at five times the velocity. Both are roadkill, but one is going to be a more dramatic hit.

So, a big rock is going to have even more velocity behind it, and impact is determined by the square of that velocity. In fact it moved so quickly, it was probably the atmosphere it slammed into. The atmospheric pressure was so much that the object in question heated up, crumbled, and blew in less than a second.

Jupiter, having enormous gravity, takes a lot of hits, but it can dish out as well as take it. Still, it’s a dramatic reminder that the universe is full of fascinating things, that are usually also explosive.

(via Slate)

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