During the past several days the discovery of the Australian amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley about a comet or asteroid impact on Jupiter is going to overshadow even the solar eclipse itself. Many of the world's largest telescopes have been directed to Jupiter. Now the checkout and calibration of Hubble has also been interrupted to aim the recently refurbished telescope at the new spot on the biggest planet of our system.
It seems that nobody wants to miss the event. Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD, allocated discretionary time to a team of astronomers led by Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, CO. The new Hubble picture of 23 July is probably the sharpest one taken of the feature and is the first observation following Hubble's repair and upgrade in May. Observations were taken with the new, Wide Field Camera 3, camera.
The spot was discovered by Anthony Wesley on 19 July and subsequently confirmed by scientists at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California using NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility at the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The only other time in history such a feature has been seen on Jupiter was 15 years ago, when the comet Shoemaker Levy 9 impacted Jupiter in July 1994.
Ed Weiler, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate said: 'This is just one example of what Hubble's new, state-of-the-art camera can do, thanks to the hard work of the astronauts and the entire Hubble team.'
The Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) is not yet fully calibrated. So while it is possible to obtain celestial images, the camera's full power cannot yet be realised for most observations. Anyway, it can still return meaningful images that will complement the Jupiter photos being taken with ground-based telescopes.
Amy Simon-Miller of the NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre estimated that the diameter of the object that slammed into Jupiter was at least twice the size of several football fields. The force of the explosion was thousands of times more powerful than the explosion over the Tunguska Valley in Siberia in June 1908.