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Solar System

Object leaves Earth-sized impact site on Jupiter
This image released by NASA shows Jupiter with an impact scar. Jupiter was recently struck by a large object - possibly a stray comet or a block of ice - which left a dent in its gaseous atmosphere the size of Earth, NASA officials said. (AFP/NASA)

Object leaves Earth-sized impact site on Jupiter

July 21, 2009
AFP

WASHINGTON - Jupiter was recently struck by a large object - possibly a stray comet or a block of ice - which left a dent in its gaseous atmosphere the size of Earth, NASA officials said.

The impact site was discovered by chance by an amateur astronomer in Australia, Anthony Wesley, at about 1330 GMT Thursday, New Scientist magazine said on its website Tuesday, quoting NASA.

Wesley reported his observations to scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who ruled out a weather event as the cause of the "black scar" now seen on the atmosphere surrounding the gaseous planet.

"It was completely unlike any of the weather phenomena that we observe on Jupiter," said Glenn Orton from the California lab, who studied the image for about six hours using an infrared telescope located in Hawaii.

"Our first image showed a really bright object right where that black scar was, and immediately we knew this was an impact," Orton said.

"There's no natural phenomenon that creates a black spot and bright particles like that," he said.

It is the first time since 1994 that an impact has been observed on the planet which is 11 times bigger than Earth and whose atmosphere is saturated with gas.

In July 1994 21 fragments of the Shoemaker Levy 9 comet slammed into the planet's atmosphere.

"This has all the hallmarks of an impact event, very similar to Shoemaker-Levy 9," said NASA scientist Leigh Fletcher.

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