Experts believe a gigantic explosion on Jupiter which was filmed by two amateur astronomers may have been the result of an asteroid or comet slamming into the gas giant's atmosphere with the force of a nuclear bomb. The explosion on 17 March was filmed independently by an astronomer in Austria and another in Ireland.
It was only when both videos were published that other theories, including a telescope malfunction, were ruled out.
Professional sky-watchers are grateful that Austria's Gerrit Kernbauer and Ireland's John McKeon obtained the footage because Jupiter, the largest planet in our Solar System, is not constantly monitored by Nasa. However the planet – which could fit all the other planets in the Solar System in it – performs a vital role as an interplanetary vacuum cleaner.
Jupiter's mass is so enormous that stray asteroids and comets rocketing through the Solar System are sucked into its gassy atmosphere at great speeds. Astronomers believe the explosion was the result of a relatively small object exploding in the upper atmosphere before disintegrating without leaving a trace. Previous impacts have been documented on numerous occasions, most notably the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet in 1994.
The good news for us is that the removal of so many objects from the "neighbourhood" makes it less likely that Earth will be struck by an object that could pose a significant threat to human life. Some astronomers believe rogue objects in the Solar System represent the greatest danger to human life and scientists have come up with a number of proposals to keep the planet safe.