It appears Jupiter is a glutton for punishment.
On March 17 the gas giant planet was pummeled by a speeding space rock, and backyard skywatchers happened to capture the cosmic violence at the moment of impact.
The sighting is the latest in a rash of impacts seen on Jupiter: Amateur astronomers caught similar events in 2009, 2010, and 2012. Before the recent onslaught, it was thought that Jupiter impacts were rare, with the 1994 smashup of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 being a spectacular exception.
But the latest thinking is that Jupiter may be a shield for Earth, sucking in space rocks before they can reach us—or it may act as a slingshot, eating up a few impacts but also sending comets and asteroids our way, possibly including the ones that may have delivered the ingredients for life to our home world.
By chance, two amateur astronomers in Austria and Ireland independently caught the latest collision on video, only discovering the event this week after going through their footage. In the film, the impact appears as a pinprick flash of light on the edge of the planet’s round face.
It’s unclear whether the impactor was a wayward meteor or comet sucked in by the huge planet’s gravitational pull. Whatever it was, astronomer Phil Plait writes that based on the visible size of the