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"Titanic" Asteroid Scars Jupiter

Debris in Jupiter's atmosphere after an object hurtled into the atmosphere on July 19, 2009. NASA/IRTF/JPL-Caltech/University of Oxford

Astronomers studying a 2009 collision on Jupiter believe that the object which left a big scar on the planet was likely an asteroid the size of the ocean liner Titanic. The finding goes against scientific convention, which generally believed most of the asteroids had been cleared away from Jupiter's gravitational sphere.

"We weren't expecting to find that an asteroid was the likely culprit in this impact, but we've now learned Jupiter is getting hit by a diversity of objects," said researcher Paul Chodas, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. in a statement following the publication of two studies of the Jupiter impact in the journal Icarus.

This event registered big time. Prior to this collision, the only objects that hit Jupiter were thought to be icy comets that got pulled by Jupiter's gravitational force. The resulting explosion is estimated to have released the equivalent of 5 gigatons of TNT, according to the researchers. For comparison's sake, that's roughly 250,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that exploded over Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945. And keep this in mind: asteroids of this size smash into the Earth approximately once every 100,000 years, according to NASA.