Following the dramatic recent smash of a comet into Jupiter and a recent collision between asteroids that left behind a comet like tail of debris, evidence is emerging of another collision in what can only be described at the north Wales of the solar system.
As the Pluto bound probe New Horizons zipped past the giant planet in 2006, it took a few shots of the Jovian system, including one of the small moon Himalia. However, on examining the image, scientists realised that something else had been caught on camera – a streak of material.
The photograph was taken too close to this band to know whether it was a tenuous ring of material or just an arc. What we do know is that when the Galileo probe shot images of the same area in 2003, it wasn’t there.
Jupiter has many moons of various sizes in orbit of it, but the number of moons of less than sixteen kilometres in diameter is less than expected when looking at the overall size distribution. Astrophysicists had suggested that this was due to small micrometeoroids eroding them away, however it may just be that another mechanism is getting rid of a few of them – collisions with bigger moons. The moon S/2000 J 11, discovered in the year 2000, was a four kilometre diameter body. It has not been seen for a while. If it has crashed into the 170km diameter moon Himalia, then it would’ve produced a short lived ring of debris that would slowly dissipate. In this scenario, the ringlet seen by New Horizons would be a new ring around Jupiter already in the process of breaking up and vanishing.