While I was napping, Jupiter became a 2nd sun. Although it was observed in January by STEREO, we forgot to tell people. Or perhaps we were hiding the truth. Also, it was so well covered on YouTube that we didn't think we had to bother with a press release.

And thus occurred the most benign conspiracy in the history of NASA.

See, usually NASA is accused of hiding evidence of aliens, moon landing hoaxes, flat Earths, and other things Too Dangerous For People To Know. But when Jupiter was seen igniting as a second sun, the response was... upbeat.

HI image of Jupiter and Sun

Image of the solar corona, taken by the SECCHI inner Heliospheric Imager (HI-1)on the STEREO Behind observatory on January 25, 2009 at 00:09:23 UT.

Centered primarily on YouTube, since the evidence is a movie taken directly from a STEREO (SECCHI HI) instrument, the general tone was less "what are they hiding?" and more "Hooray!" One video by Joyu2012 states with mild coherence GF ignites Jupiter into a sun_Proofs@NASA_15 Feb 2009.

Snark aside, the various YouTube clips are really touching. Unlike most photoshopped conspiracy buffs deluding themselves into insanity, these have three notable features:

  1. They use the actual unaltered data
  2. They attempt to intepret the data using scientific theories (notably the concept Jupiter was a failed sun)
  3. They ask non-paranoid questions about what happened

What was seen was: Jupiter moving slowly across the wide HI instrument field of view.  A CME erupts from the sun.  As the CME appears to overlap with Jupiter, Jupiter (near the edge of the field of view) brightens, and after the CME is gone, Jupiter is blooming bright, bright, bright.  So calling it a Jupiter Ignition isn't totally untoward.  Over at AlienExistence, a poster named Mike has an excellent play-by-play of the event, with links to the actual data. And indeed, I regret to inform you that we do not have a second sun in our solar system. We do still have the planet Jupiter, though, and that should be worth something.

I'm a skeptic, so my first thought upon hearing of the supposed ignition was 'instrument artifact'. I even reported on a different early 'first light' instrument artifact that almost bit our team. And indeed the Jupiter Ignition Event is an artifact due to image saturation, flaring, and field of view distortion, heightened by the coincidence that a solar CME happens to cross the instrument's field of view at the same time as the much-further-out Jupiter. It's really quite stunning.

I only found out about this yesterday, at lunch. Karl Battams, aka Mr. Sungrazer, is our resident comet guru. He's tasked with answering the email queries and will be putting up the official report on the sungrazer site. I thought I'd break the news here as well. However I write it, though, I can't be as poignant as DearNightfable's poetic debunking video.

Light and love,
Alex, the daytime astronomer^2

The Daytime Astronomer, Tues&Fri here, via RSS feed, and twitter @skyday