Comet Strike on Jupiter?

Jupiter.jpgSince it seems to be the week for space news, dramatic photos are emerging of what appears to be the results of a major impact on Jupiter.

Scientists have found evidence that another object has bombarded Jupiter, exactly 15 years after the first impacts by the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9.

Following up on a tip by an amateur astronomer, Anthony Wesley of Australia, that a new dark “scar” had suddenly appeared on Jupiter, this morning between 3 and 9 a.m. PDT (6 a.m. and noon EDT) scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., using NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility at the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, gathered evidence indicating an impact.

Things like this are always interesting, but there’s another part of the story not being discussed here. That’s an impressive photo to be sure, but keep the scale in mind. Jupiter is huge. It’s often hard for us to conceive of exactly how large that planet really is. That “scar” you’re looking at is roughly the size of the Earth. So what does this mean?

It means that, very probably, an object recently struck Jupiter which was big enough to leave an impact signature the size of our entire planet, and we didn’t see it coming. Had it missed Jupiter and, through bad fortune, found it’s way on a direct collision course with Earth, we’d have had little or no time to prepare and we might not be sitting here today admiring the pretty pictures.

Support the NASA Near Earth Object program and let Congress know that it needs to be fully funded. If we’re going to blow all this money on stimulus ideas anyway, I can’t think of a more stimulating project than helping ensure our planet doesn’t go up in flames.