Researchers using NASA's Juno spacecraft caught a rare sighting of a very bright meteoroid explosion in Jupiter's atmosphere while checking the planet's auroras.
Since it's the largest planet in the solar system, it has a powerful gravitational pull, so impacts aren't rare for Jupiter.
A statement was released by the Southwest Research Institute's Rohini Giles. He is also the lead author of a paper published this month in Geophysical Research Letters. He wrote, "However, they are so short-lived that it is relatively unusual to see them. You have to be lucky to be pointing a telescope at Jupiter at exactly the right time."
In the past decade, amateur astronomers have spotted six impacts on the massive planet using Earth-based telescopes.
Giles and colleagues had a distinct advantage using the Juno space probe, hanging out by Jupiter itself.
Giles added, "This bright flash stood out in the data, as it had very different spectral characteristics than the UV emissions from Jupiter's auroras."
After further research of the data from the flash, the team estimates that it came from a space rock with a mass of between 249 and 1,497 kilograms. Scientists also concluded that the rock impacted the atmosphere at an altitude about 225 kilometres above the top of Jupiter's clouds.
For years, researchers have been studying the different impacts on Jupiter. The most significant collision ever seen thus far on the planet was the impact from the comet, Shoemaker-Levy 9, in 1994.
Giles concluded, saying, "Impacts from asteroids and comets can have a significant impact on the planet's stratospheric chemistry. 15 years after the impact, comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was still responsible for 95 percent of the stratospheric water on Jupiter. Continuing to observe impacts and estimating the overall impact rates is therefore an important element of understanding the planet's composition."