[Watch] Jupiter’s Northern Lights Enigma Deciphered


  • The northern lights are driven primarily by solar winds
  • Jupiter’s northern lights have these bright flares which has up to terawatts of power
  • X-ray auroras are caused by fluctuations of Jupiter’s magnetic field.

Jupiter’s mysterious X-ray auroras have been explained by combining data from NASA’s Juno mission with X-ray observations from the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton, reports CNN.

Aurora borealis on Earth

The aurora borealis, or northern lights, are Earth’s greatest light show, dazzling those lucky enough to see them in the northernmost reaches of our planet. It’s a phenomenon shared by other planets in our solar system.

“The northern lights are basically the video of what’s going on in the magnetosphere,” said William Dunn, a research fellow at University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory , a member of the international team of scientists who say they have solved this 40-year-old mystery..

On Earth, the northern lights are driven primarily by solar winds, which are particles emitted during solar storms that flow out through space and tear through Earth’s magnetosphere, creating a colourful light show.

X-ray flares from Jupitar

“Jupiter’s X-ray flares were first discovered in 1979,” Dunn said, which puzzled scientists because the phenomena were usually associated with more exotic space bodies like black holes and neutron stars.

“They are unimaginably more powerful (than Earth’s) and much more complex. Jupiter’s northern lights have these bright flares, and these flares can be up to terawatts of power that would power all of civilization,” he added.

Other factors that might be responsible for Northern light in Jupiter:

  • Jupiter spins much faster than Earth
  •  It has the strongest magnetic field of any planet in our solar system.
  • Jupiter’s moon, Io, is covered by more than 400 active volcanoes, which pump out volcanic material into Jupiter’s magnetosphere, the area controlled by a planet’s magnetic field.

With the simultaneous observations from Juno and the MM-Newton X-ray telescope, Dunn and his colleagues were able to link the X-ray pulses, which happen at regular intervals, with Jupiter’s breathtaking auroras.

“Every 27 minutes Jupiter produces a burst of X-rays. That gave us the fingerprints. We knew that Jupiter was doing this every 27 minutes, and then we could look at the Juno data to see what processes are also happening every 27 minutes,” Dunn said.

This image, created with data from Juno’s Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer, marks the path of Juno’s readings of Jupiter’s auroras.

Reason for Jupitar’s Northern lights

By combining observations and data from NASA’s Juno spacecraft, which launched in 2016, and the European Space Agency’s X-ray telescope, the researchers found that the pulsating X-ray auroras are caused by fluctuations of Jupiter’s magnetic field.

What they found was, as Jupiter rotates, it drags around its magnetic field, which is struck directly by particles of solar wind and compressed. These compressions heat particles which are electrically charged atoms called ions that are trapped in Jupiter’s magnetic field. This triggers a phenomenon called electromagnetic ion cyclotron (EMIC) waves, the researchers said.

Guided by Jupiter’s magnetic field, the ions surf the EMIC wave and eventually slam into the planet’s poles, triggering the X-ray aurora.

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Source: CNN



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