An amateur astronomer was looking at Jupiter and spotted something he didn’t spot the day before.
I’d noticed a dark spot rotating into view in Jupiters south polar region and was starting to get curious. When first seen close to the limb (and in poor conditions) it was only a vaguely dark spot, I thouht likely to be just a normal dark polar storm. However as it rotated further into view, and the conditions also improved, I suddenly realised that it wasn’t just dark, it was black in all channels, meaning it was truly a black spot.
My next thought was that it must be either a dark moon (like Callisto) or a moon shadow, but it was in the wrong place and the wrong size. Also I’d noticed it was moving too slow to be a moon or shadow. As far as I could see it was rotating in sync with a nearby white oval storm that I was very familiar with – this could only mean that the back feature was at the cloud level and not a projected shadow from a moon. I started to get excited.
Even though this might not be an “impact event”, the possibility that it is makes it cool and scary at the same time.
Cool, in that we get to see some changes in Jupiter we can track over time.
Scary, in that nobody knew Jupiter was going to get hit with a big ball of something from outer space. Most things from outside the orbit of Jupiter that would cause such a large black spot in the gas giant’s atmosphere are big enough to track, and nobody saw this coming.
This, to me at least, implies that it’s always possible for something that big to hit earth. And if something as big as what caused that did hit earth… well, it probably would be best if we didn’t see it coming.
Thankfully, Jupiter is big enough to sweep most rogue asteroids into its path and suck them up like a good vacuum cleaner. However, that assumes the asteroid in question is on a relatively normal path around the Sun, and is affected by Jupiter’s gravity, so that eventually Jupiter alters the path of the space rock and pulls it in. Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 famously smacked into Jupiter in 1994, getting ripped apart by gravitational forces as it fell into the planet.
Asteroids are a bit harder to track. Keep those tin foil hats handy.
Speaking of tin foil hats, here’s a stoner doing Public Service Scare-nouncements in support of the new 2012 movie.
Fake End Of The World site in support of the 2012 movie