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Jupiter Collisions remain a mystery to scientists

The collisions that occurred on Jupiter last week remain a mystery to scientists who are currently examining this latest impact on the gas giant.

By Denise ChowSPACE.com Staff Writer / June 10, 2010

This image shows an amateur astronomer's view of Jupiter June 3, who said he witnessed a bright flash (upper l.) from an object hitting the Jovian surface. The Jupiter collisions last week remain a mystery to scientists.

Anthony Wesley/AP

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The huge, burning object that slammed into Jupiter last week still remains a mystery to scientists who are currently examining this latest impact on the gas giant.

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The newest Jupiter collision was spotted Friday by amateur astronomers Anthony Wesley in Australia and Christopher Go in the Philippines. It occurred less than a year after another object whacked Jupiter last summer.

Wesley posted photos of the blazing fireball that signaled the collision to his website. They were taken from Broken Hill, Australia. [Video of the Jupiter fireball.]

IN PICTURES: Awesome photos of Jupiter

Scientists are now analyzing the impact, in hopes of being able to identify the cosmic object that crashed into the largest planet in our solar system.

For the time being, however, there is no consensus on what it was, said Heidi Hammel of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

Hammel was the lead researcher of a study that was recently published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, which determined that a rogue asteroid about 1,600 feet (500 meters) was the culprit in another spectacular crash on Jupiter that occurred on July 19, 2009.

It was Wesley, too, who first spotted the July 2009 Jupiter crash. His observations kicked off an international observation campaign to study the impact site.

Studies about Jupiter's latest impact are already underway, though no results have been released so far.

"We are working on the data analysis and I cannot say news on this," Agustin Sanchez-Lavega of the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain, told SPACE.com in an e-mail.

With this new collision coming less than a year after the July 2009 incident, researchers are rethinking current estimates of the frequency of such planetary impacts on Jupiter.

"Certainly the impact probability statistics seem to need revision, based on these two events within the past 11 months," Hammel told SPACE.com.

Jupiter is certainly no stranger to violent impacts. In 1994, the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke into more than 20 pieces and pelted the gas giant repeatedly. At the time, astronomers estimated such impacts could occur on Jupiter every 50 to 250 years.

IN PICTURES: Awesome photos of Jupiter