Small impacts on the giant planet Jupiter
Física Aplicada I, Escuela de Ingeniería de Bilbao, UPV/EHU,
Alameda Urquijo s/n,
2 Societé Astronomique de France, Paris, France
3 Amateur Astronomer, Lycée Jules Antonini, Ajaccio; Chemin des vignes, 20167 Afa, France
4 Amateur Astronomer, Salurnergasse 9/6, 2340 Mödling, Austria
5 Meath Astronomy Group, Dublin, Ireland
6 Amateur Astronomer, Gablonzerstraße 33, 38259 Salzgitter, Germany
7 Astronomical Society of Australia, 1502 Rubyvale Rd, Rubyvale, Queensland 4702, Australia
8 Fundacio Observatori Esteve Duran, Seva, Spain
Accepted: 3 April 2018
Context. Video observations of Jupiter obtained by amateur astronomers over the past 8 years have shown five flashes of light with durations of 1–2 s, each observed by at least two observers that were geographically separated. The first three of these events occurred on 3 June 2010, 20 August 2010, and 10 September 2012. Previous analyses of their light curves showed that they were caused by the impact of objects of 5–20 m in diameter, depending on their density, with a released energy comparable to superbolides on Earth of the class of the Chelyabinsk airburst. The most recent two flashes on Jupiter were detected on 17 March 2016 and 26 May 2017 and are analyzed here.
Aims. We characterize the energy involved together with the masses and sizes of the objects that produced these flashes. The rate of similar impacts on Jupiter provides improved constraints on the total flux of impacts on the planet, which can be compared to the amount of exogenic species detected in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter.
Methods. We extracted light curves of the flashes and calculated the masses and sizes of the impacting objects after calibrating each video observation. We also present results from a systematic search of impacts on >72 000 video amateur observations with a customized software that is based on differential photometry of the images. An examination of the number of amateur observations of Jupiter as a function of time over the past years allows us to interpret the statistics of these impact detections.
Results. The cumulative flux of small objects (5–20 m or larger) that impact Jupiter is predicted to be low (10–65 impacts per year), and only a fraction of them are potentially observable from Earth (4–25 observable impacts per year in a perfect survey). These numbers imply that many observers are required to efficiently discover Jupiter impacts.
Conclusions. We predict that more impacts will be found in the next years, with Jupiter opposition displaced toward summer in the northern hemisphere where most amateur astronomers observe. Objects of this size contribute negligibly to the abundance of exogenous species and dust in the stratosphere of Jupiter when compared with the continuous flux from interplanetary dust particles punctuated by giant impacts. Flashes of a high enough brightness (comparable at their peak to a +3.3 magnitude star) could produce an observable debris field on the planet. We estimate that a continuous search for these impacts might find these events once every 0.4–2.6 yr.
Key words: planets and satellites: atmospheres / planets and satellites: individual: Jupiter / meteorites, meteors, meteoroids
© ESO 2018