Amateur, astronauts, astronomers and the rare Jupiter collision

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has taken the sharpest visible-light picture yet of atmospheric debris from an object that collided with Jupiter on July 19. NASA scientists decided to interrupt the recently refurbished observatory’s checkout and calibration to take the image of a new, expanding spot on the giant planet on July 23.

Computer programmer Anthony Wesley, from the small village of Murrumbateman, north of Canberra, Australia, discovered the Jupiter collision using a 14.5-inch telescope in his backyard. He immediately realized its significance.

‘By two a.m. I’d come back up to the house and was sending alerts to all the people I could think of that should be looking at this and especially the professional astronomers with specialized instrument for measuring this,’ he said. ‘The sooner they could see this the more interesting and more useful science they can get from it.’

‘It’s a dream really for anyone who takes photographs of the planets and photographs of Jupiter to take a photograph of this type, really it’s a dream come true for me.’

‘We owe a huge debt to him for picking up on these things,’ said planetary scientist Leigh Fletcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The spot was created when a small comet or asteroid plunged into Jupiter’s atmosphere and disintegrated. ‘Because we believe this magnitude of impact is rare, we are very fortunate to see it with Hubble,’ said Amy Simon-Miller of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. ‘Details seen in the Hubble view shows a lumpiness to the debris plume caused by turbulence in Jupiter’s atmosphere.’

The new Hubble images also confirm that a May servicing visit by space shuttle astronauts was a big success.

For the past several days, Earth-based telescopes have been trained on Jupiter. To capture the unfolding drama 360 million miles away, Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, gave observation time to a team of astronomers led by Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

‘Hubble’s truly exquisite imaging capability has revealed an astonishing wealth of detail in the impact site,’ Hammel said. ‘By combining these images with our ground-based data at other wavelengths, our Hubble data will allow a comprehensive understanding of exactly what is happening to the impact debris.’

Simon-Miller estimated the diameter of the impacting object was the size of several football fields. The force of the explosion on Jupiter was thousands of times more powerful than the suspected comet or asteroid that exploded [here on planet earth] over the Siberian Tunguska River Valley in June 1908.

The image was taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3. The new camera, installed by the astronauts on space shuttle Atlantis in May, is not yet fully calibrated. While it is possible to obtain celestial images, the camera’s full power has yet to be seen.

According to Ed Weiler, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. ‘The best is yet to come.’

To view the image and obtain more information about Jupiter’s new spot, visit: