Timely observations play a large role in astronomy. If an astronomer directs his scientific instrument at the right time to the right area of space, then he has a chance to accidentally stumble upon something unexpected. This is exactly what happened in the case of the recent discovery by astronomer Rohini Giles of the Southwest Research Institute, USA, and her colleagues an anomaly in the images, which, upon further analysis, turned out to be a meteor flash in the atmosphere of Jupiter.
This research team is working with data collected from the on-board ultraviolet spectrometer UVS of the NASA Juno mission of Jupiter. The main purpose of this instrument, operating in the range from 68 to 210 nanometers, is to study the atmosphere of Jupiter and observe its glow events.
Recently, while reviewing a series of images taken with this instrument, one of Dr. Giles's colleagues drew attention to a giant flare in the atmosphere of Jupiter, located far beyond the boundaries of the zone in which the glow of the planet's atmosphere, close in origin to the Earth's auroras, is usually observed.
To determine the cause of the outbreak, the team had to work out several hypotheses. The hypothesis of Jupiter's "polar auroras" was ruled out by Giles and her group, as already indicated, because the outburst was observed far beyond the boundaries of the zone in which these events are usually observed. The second hypothesis that the observed flash was lightning in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter - similar to the stratospheric "elves" and "sprites" on Earth - was also rejected because the scale of the observed event turned out to be incomparably larger. The last check ruled out the version that the observed flare was an artifact of a scientific instrument - in this case, the distribution of photons in the image would have been more diffuse, while in reality their rather crowded arrangement in the flare zone was observed.
By eliminating all of these possible explanations for the mysterious outburst, Giles's team concluded that they were dealing with a meteor outburst in Jupiter's atmosphere. In this case, the size of the space stone was supposed to be from 250 to 5000 kilograms. The frequency of the fall of space rocks on Jupiter, based on the data obtained by the team, is estimated at about 24,000 falls annually.
The study appeared on the arxiv.org advanced scientific publications server.