How do amateur astronomers contribute to astronomy?

How can you use math to shape an astronomical event?


Space is a harsh mistress that has captured our imagination since humans were able to look up. But one of the many things that we often take for granted is how much debris there is out there. Earth takes on about 100 tons of space debris a day. The amount of debris could be much higher if we weren’t best friends with Jupiter, our solar systems debris vacuums. Jupiter has twice the gravity of Earth and gets bombarded substantially more by celestial objects. We can visually confirm impacts about once a year; amateur astronomers, incredibly, observe most of the objects that impact planets.

March 17 of this year two amateur astronomers, one from Austria and the other from Ireland, confirmed a large impact on Jupiter. These two astronomers were using only 8” cassegrain telescopes, easily accessible to public. With both amateur astronomers recording the event, it helps prove there was no anomaly with their equipment. The plume was huge but the object that hit it was rather small, just tens of meters wide. How do we know this?

Why math of course!

The kinetic energy of an object is one half the mass times the square of the velocity. Meaning during impact the energy quadruples when the velocity is doubled. The energy doubles when mass is doubled. This means that initial velocity and gravitational strength is more important than size of meteor when looking at the amount of energy released and size of of plume created.

Just knowing a little math you can estimate the cause of such a large plume off the surface of Jupiter. You also know that because the flume was so large, the meteor had to be traveling incredibly fast but not necessarily being that large.