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Amateur Stargazer Films Huge Fireball Exploding Through Jupiter's Atmosphere

"For those with a camera, the lure of imaging Jupiter just became that little bit more exciting!"

(Image: George Hall video screenshot via Space.com)

On Monday, an amateur astronomer observing the solar system's largest planet spotted a fireball noticeable enough that it indicated a flash 100-miles in diameter.

Visible on Earth through a Meade 12-inch LX200GPS telescope, Dan Petersen observed from Racine, Wisc., what he describes as 1.5 to 2-second flash of a asteroid or comet being swallowed by Jupiter.

Petersen writes on the forum Cloudy Nights that he almost missed this discovery.

"I was thinking about imaging Jupiter this morning but decided to observe it instead, had I been imaging I'm sure I would have missed it between adjusting webcam settings and focusing each avi," he wrote.

Another stargazer, George Hall, in Dallas, Texas, reports capturing the fireball on film after he went back to his footage upon hearing of Petersen's initial account, according to Space.com.

Space.com reports experts saying advances in modern technology have allowed some of these events to be observed and reported more frequently:

"The popularity of modern digital imaging combined with the tenacity and hard work of dedicated planetary observers has paid off yet again with a visual report of a fireball event in Jupiter's atmosphere being reported visually and then being confirmed by stills from a movie sequence," astronomer and astrophotographer Pete Lawrence, a BBC night sky presented who runs the DigitalSky website, told SPACE.com in an email. "The fact that such events have now been reported before may be a catalyst for visual observers to keep watch for them."

[...]

"The speed of modern communications also helps, and word of the impact spread around the internet with great rapidity," Lawrence said. "For those with a camera, the lure of imaging Jupiter just became that little bit more exciting!"

This event marks the forth time Jupiter has sustained an observed impact since 2009. The most notable time, according to Space.com, left a scar in the planet's clouds the size of the Pacific Ocean. Astronomers are making observations of the planet to see if this latest impactor left its mark as well. The Slooh Space Camera on the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa set out to observe any further evidence of the impact Tuesday night. If anything is seen from this camera, it could help identify the impactor as either an asteroid or a comet.

"My best guess is that it was a small undetected comet that is now history, hopefully it will sign its name on Jupiter's cloud tops," Petersen wrote on Cloudy Nights.

SpaceWeather.com has reported John Rogers, director of the Jupiter Section of the British Astronomical Association, as saying that several observers have issued the images obtained from the impact and "there is nothing new nor distinctive at the impact site."

None the less, for amateur observers on Earth to spot the flash and to capture it on film is still pretty impressive. Check out the footage from Hall:

One last thing…
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