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Saturday, 25 July 2009 17:49

Hubble takes rare Jupiter impact images

The Hubble Space Telescope was detoured in its recalibration, after being refurbished by the NASA STS-125 astronauts in May 2009, to take images of the recent impact spot on Jupiter, which was discovered by an Australian amateur astronomer on July 19, 2009.

Some type of “atmospheric debris,” maybe from a comet or asteroid, collided with the atmosphere of Jupiter on July 19.

Four days later, as the spot continues to expand, NASA asked mission controllers with the Hubble Space Telescope to take images of the spot with the newly installed Wide Field Camera 3 onboard the Hubble.

According to the July 24, 2009 NASA media brief “Hubble Space Telescope Captures Rare Jupiter Collision,” the change of plans was due to the extreme rarity of such a collision with the planet Jupiter.

In fact, Amy Simon-Miller (of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland), stated, “Because we believe this magnitude of impact is rare, we are very fortunate to see it with Hubble. Details seen in the Hubble view shows a lumpiness to the debris plume caused by turbulence in Jupiter's atmosphere."

Simon-Miller also stated that the impacted object, which disintegrated upon impact with Jupiter, was the size of “several football fields.”

When it hit Jupiter’s atmosphere, the force of the explosion was “thousands of times more powerful than the suspected comet or asteroid that exploded over the Siberian Tunguska River Valley in June 1908.” The resulting impact site was described later as about the size of Earth. [NASA]

As reported in the July 21, 2009 iTWire article “Jupiter gets bonked by either a comet or asteroid,” Australian amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley was the first person to discover the impact. Wesley then contacted two NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory astronomers—Leigh Fletcher, and JPL Glenn Orton—who verified his claim.

Page two continues.

This collision between Jupiter, about 360 million miles from Earth, and this space debris is only the second time such a thing has been observed on Jupiter by astronomers here on Earth.

The first time was when pieces of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 8 collided with Jupiter in 1994.

The NASA news brief implies that the ability of Hubble to image the collision point in such great detail shows that the service and repair mission, performed just two months ago, was a success.

To see the Hubble Space Telescope’s visible-light image of the Jupiter impact point, go to the website “Hubble Captures Rare Jupiter Collision.”

U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland, stated, "This image of the impact on Jupiter is fantastic. It tells us that our astronauts and the ground crew at the Goddard Space Flight Center successfully repaired the Hubble telescope. I'm so proud of them and I can't wait to see what's next from Hubble." [NASA]

Barbara A. Mikulski is the chair of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee. Mikulski is a senator from Maryland, the state where ground control of the Hubble Space Telescope is located.

The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI)  is responsible for the scientific operations of the Hubble mission. The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) operates STScI. AURA is located on the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Page three concludes.

Matt Mountain, STScI director, provided time to observe Jupiter through Hubble to a team of astronomers headed by Heidi Hammel, all from the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado.

Dr. Hammel stated, “Hubble's truly exquisite imaging capability has revealed an astonishing wealth of detail in the impact site. 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."

The NASA article concludes with a comment from Ed Weiler, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Weiler states, “This is just one example of what Hubble's new, state-of-the-art camera can do, thanks to the STS-125 astronauts and the entire Hubble team."

He added, "However, the best is yet to come."

To obtain more information about Hubble, go to: https://www.nasa.gov/hubble.

Find out where Hubble is located overhead by going to the website: "HubbleSite--Where's Hubble Now?..."

To learn more about the planet Jupiter, check out the NASA website: "Jupiter".

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