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Mystery impact leaves Earth-size mark on Jupiter

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Published on Jul 25, 2009

An amateur astronomer in Australia noticed the new mark -- seen through telescopes as a dark spot -- on the planet early Monday and tipped off scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, who then confirmed it was the result of a new impact, NASA said.

It's not clear what the object was that crashed into Jupiter's poisonous atmosphere.

Glenn Orton, a JPL scientist, told the magazine New Scientist that it could have been a block of ice from somewhere in Jupiter's neighborhood, or a wandering comet that was too faint for astronomers to have detected before impact.

The object created a mark on Jupiter that has the about same diameter as Earth, though the object itself was probably only 50 to 100 miles across, said Anthony Wesley, the amateur astronomer who first noticed the scar.

The mystery object was likely moving at speeds of about 50 to 100 kilometers (31 to 62 miles) per second when it struck near Jupiter's south pole, Wesley told CNN.

It is only the second time scientists have been able to observe the results of such an impact on Jupiter. The first happened 15 years ago, when comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke into 21 pieces and hit the planet's atmosphere.

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