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White flash on Jupiter spotted by amateur astronomers

Amateur astronomers on two continents independently observed and recorded the white flash in the atmosphere of Jupiter Monday.
Credit: Tanya Oleksuik; NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS
A processed image from the Juno spacecraft taken Dec. 26, 2019, showing two storms merging into one. They can be seen just south of a larger storm called Oval BA.

Scientists and astronomers are working to confirm what a handful of stargazers on two continents saw Monday: a bright flash of light in the atmosphere of Jupiter that was likely a space rock impacting our solar system's largest planet.

At least five people in Brazil, Germany, France and Italy independently saw or recorded the white flash, according to amateur planetary observer Marc Delcroix.

A video of the event uploaded by Jose Luis Pereira of Brazil has been viewed 1.2 million times since Tuesday. According to Sky & Telescope, the impact happened at 6:39 p.m. ET Monday. Pereira decided to double-check what he saw with DeTeCt software -- created by Delcroix -- which observers often used to check for things like planetary impacts.

The European Space Agency tweeted out an image from Pereira on its operations account.

Italian Ernesto Guido tweeted out images he said were captured by amateur astronomers in Germany and France.

Paul Byrne, an associate professor of Earth and planetary science at Washington University, reportedly told Inverse that the object could potentially be hundreds of meters in size.

“We do know that it can't have been too big — images of Jupiter since the impact doesn't reveal an impact scar,” Byrne said.

An impact scar is what was famously left in July 1994 when the comet Shoemaker-Levy-9 hit the planet and left a dark feature on Jupiter that was bigger than the Earth.

Credit: Hubble Space Telescope Jupiter Imaging Team / NASA
Hubble Space Telescope image after the impact of Fragment G of Comet Shoemaker-Levy-9 on Jupiter, July 18, 1994.

If Monday's event is confirmed to be a strike, it would be just the eighth recorded event seen from Earth since Shoemaker-Levy-9.

Information and observations continue to be compiled and Delcroix is asking anyone who saw the flash independently to contact him.

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