Likely an asteroid or comet, the object was pulled into the thick atmosphere of the largest planet in our solar system.
A backyard astronomer in Austria captured a cool cosmic event on Jupiter: a strike by some natural space debris, either an asteroid or a comet. It’s not surprising that such things happen, as Jupiter is the largest and most massive planet and acts as a sort of shepherd of small solar system bodies. But the timing was just right for Gerrit Kernbauer to capture the event.
The object was projected to be relatively small, but due to Jupiter’s gravitational influence, it quickly reached high velocity, kicking up plumes of debris as it smashed into the clouds. The explosion had a force of 12,500,000 tons of TNT.
According to Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy, collisions like this happen once per year on average. Perhaps the most notable occurrence was in 1994, when the Shoemaker-Levy 9 cometslammed into Jupiter, an event captured by ground-based astronomers and NASA’s Galileo probe, then just months from entering orbit around Jupiter. With a new NASA probe, Juno, ready to enter orbit later this year, we might get to catch a fiery show like this again.