A vast cosmic collision that left a dark scar the size of the Earth on the surface of Jupiter has been discovered by an amateur astronomer using a home-made telescope.
Anthony Wesley spotted the extraordinary impact on Sunday night while watching Jupiter from the backyard of his rural home in Murrumbateman, near Canberra, Australia. He nearly missed it because he was also watching the final rounds of the Open Championship on television.
Mr Wesley, 44, an IT consultant who designed his telescope himself, told The Times how he saw a strange black blob creep across the planet’s surface.
“About 11pm I went inside to have a break and watch the golf, and by the time I came back out at about 1am the impact point had rotated around into view,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘That wasn’t there before’, and then I realised Jupiter had actually been hit by something.”
Mr Wesley immediately set about alerting professional astronomers to his discovery, some of whom trained more powerful telescopes on Jupiter after seeing his e-mailed images.
Scientists at Nasa confirmed that his observations were of an impact rather than a storm. It is thought to have been caused by a small comet or cometary fragment, about 1km in diameter, which would have struck the planet at a speed of about 60km per second (about 135,000mph)…
Were an object of similar size to strike the Earth, it would cause devastation, though not quite over so large an area. Jupiter’s greater gravity will have magnified the effects.
Ian Crawford, lecturer in planetary sciences at Birkbeck, London, said: “Even if the impact would not have been quite so bad on Earth, it underscores the danger to us of such impacts. We wouldn’t want to be hit by a 1km fragment: it would be devastating. You’d expect it to excavate a crater 20km across…”
Mr Wesley, an IT consultant, said that he spends at least 20 hours a week looking at Jupiter — his “main passion” in the sky.
When asked to explain the appeal of Jupiter, the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest in the solar system, Mr Wesley said: “It’s just such a dynamic planet.
“Even when there are no earth-shattering events happening it just changes day to day and has so many patterns it is fascinating to watch.”
Bravo! Good for you, dude.
Hmm. That’s about how much time I spend each week – online.