Hubble snaps Jupiter’s new bruise

Hubble photo of impact site
The Hubble space telescope has been turned on Jupiter to take the most detailed photo yet of its new impact bruise.

The giant planet is sporting a huge black spot, bigger than the Earth, after being whacked by a comet or asteroid.

The rare impact was first seen by a backyard stargazer, Anthony Wesley, near Canberra, Australia. Professional space scientists have been rushing to catch up using the world’s biggest telescopes.

And now even Hubble, in orbit high above the Earth’s atmosphere, has been diverted from calibration tests following recent repairs to observe the cosmic scar 360 million miles away. Using its new Wide Field Camera 3, it returned the best pictures yet of the rapidly expanding black mark, which eerily resembles impacts by fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994.

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NASA say the new Hubble images confirm that a servicing mission by space shuttle astronauts aboard Atlantis in May was a big success.

“Because we believe this magnitude of impact is rare, we are very fortunate to see it with Hubble,” said Amy Simon-Miller of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Details seen in the Hubble view shows a lumpiness to the debris plume caused by turbulence in Jupiter’s atmosphere.”

The team of astronomers who took the Hubble images were led by Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. She said: “Hubble’s truly exquisite imaging capability has revealed an astonishing wealth of detail in the 2009 impact site. By combining these images with our ground-based data at other wavelengths, our Hubble data will allow a comprehensive understanding of exactly what is happening to the impact debris.”

• Discover space for yourself and do fun science with a telescope. Here is Skymania’s advice on how to choose a telescope. We also have a guide to the different types of telescope available.

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By Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. He writes regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy, plus he has authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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