MAR 28, 2015 4:46 AM PDT

Jupiter's Exploding Auroras

On Earth, bursts of particles spewed by the Sun spark shimmering auroras, like the Northern Lights, that briefly dance at our planet's poles. But, on Jupiter, there's an auroral glow all the time, and new observations show that this Jovian display sometimes flares up because of a process having nothing to do with the Sun.

Jupiter watchers have long known that the giant planet's ever-present polar auroras - thousands of times brighter and many times bigger than Earth - are powered by both electrically charged particles from the Sun colliding with Jupiter's magnetic field and a separate interaction between Jupiter and one of its many moons, called Io. But there are also auroral explosions on Jupiter, or periods of dazzling brightening, similar to auroral storms on Earth, that no one could definitively trace back to either of those known causes.
Artist's rendering of exploding auroras in Jupiter's magnetic field
In the aurora-making interaction of Jupiter and Io, volcanoes on the small moon blast clouds of electrically charged atoms (ions) and electrons into a region surrounding Jupiter that's permeated by the planet's powerful magnetic field, thousands of times stronger than Earth's.
Rotating along with its rapidly spinning planet, the magnetic field drags the material from Io around with it, causing strong electric fields at Jupiter's poles. The acceleration of the ions and electrons produce intense auroras that shine in almost all parts of the electromagnetic spectrum but most brightly in high-energy bands, like ultraviolet light and X-rays, that are invisible to unaided human eyes.

Now, new observations of the planet's extreme ultraviolet emissions show that bright explosions of Jupiter's aurora likely also get kicked off by the planet-moon interaction, not by solar activity. A new scientific paper about these observations by Tomoki Kimura of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), in Sagamihara, Kanagawa, Japan, and his colleagues, was published online in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Starting in January 2014, a telescope aboard the JAXA's Hisaki satellite, which focused on Jupiter for two months, recorded intermittent brightening of the giant planet's aurora. The telescope detected sudden flare-ups on days when the usual flow of charged particles from the Sun, known as the solar wind, was relatively weak.
Additional space and ground-based telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, also viewed Jupiter during these lulls in the solar wind. Both Hisaki and Hubble witnessed explosions of the planet's aurora despite the solar wind's calm, suggesting that it's the Jupiter-Io interaction driving these explosions, not charged particles from the Sun, according to the new study.

The new research does not address exactly what is happening in the Jovian magnetosphere to cause the temporary brightening of auroral explosions

(Source: Space Daily)
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
DEC 18, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
DEC 18, 2019
Physics in Peril? (Part II) - Lost in the "Darkness"
Not many share the same antagonistic view with Sabine Hossenfelder, the physicist who associates the current awkward state of physical science with theoret...
DEC 22, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 22, 2019
Boeing Launches Botched Starliner Demo Mission for NASA
Boeing finally moved forward with the initial un-crewed test launch of its Starliner Commercial Crew spacecraft for NASA at the end of this past week follo...
JAN 05, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 05, 2020
It's Finally the Year of the Mars 2020 Mission
It’s officially 2020, and with that in mind, anyone paying attention to NASA’s launch schedule should know already that the Mars 2020 rover is...
JAN 19, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 19, 2020
The Quest to Understand Saturn's Auroras Continues
The Cassini-Huygens mission officially came to an end in September 2017 when it came dangerously close to running of fuel and was consequently ordered to m...
MAR 01, 2020
Space & Astronomy
MAR 01, 2020
Astronomers Say it Was the Biggest Explosion Detected Since the Big Bang
When you’re an astronomer, you come to grips with the fact that the job involves a lot of waiting and watching as advanced detectors spend countless...
MAR 15, 2020
Space & Astronomy
MAR 15, 2020
This Exoplanet Rains... Iron!?
Many of us take the Earth and its many ‘normal’ characteristics for granted, but there are so many exoplanets in the universe around us with th...
Loading Comments...