NASA scientists have indicated the entry of a meteoroid, a fragment significantly smaller than an asteroid, into Jupiter’s atmosphere. The discovery was detected at random by the Ultraviolet Spectrograph (UVS), an instrument of the Southwest Research Institute on board the Juno space probe, during aurora observation in the region. After analyzing the data obtained, the team characterized the event as an extremely luminous explosion called a bolide.
This occurrence is not uncommon in the gas giant due to the great force of gravity on the largest planet in the Solar System. “However, bolidos are so short-lived that it is relatively uncommon to see them. We are fortunate to point the telescope at Jupiter at exactly the right moment, ”said Rohini Giles, leader of the study in a statement in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters.
Since 2016, when Juno arrived in the planet’s orbit, UVS has been used to study the morphology, brightness and spectral characteristics of the site’s auroras. On April 10, the equipment recorded short-lived ultraviolet emissions outside the zone in a period of just 17 milliseconds.
The team initially thought that the flash was a Transient Light Event (TLE), an atmospheric phenomenon triggered by lightning. However, it showed smooth body shapes and different spectral characteristics, which led scientists to determine it as a bolide. “The duration of the flash and the spectral shape go well with what we expect from an impact. This particular one stood out in the data, as it had spectral characteristics very different from the ultraviolet emissions of Jupiter’s auroras ”, said the scientist.
“From that, we saw that the emission came from a space rock with a temperature above 9 thousand ° C, located at an altitude of 225 kilometers above the planet’s clouds. When considering the intensity of the brightness, we estimate that the meteoroid has a mass between 250 kilograms and 1,500 kilograms ”, concluded Giles.