Northern Lights – on Jupiter!


Northern Lights and Southern Lights on Jupiter can be seen in these photos from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory – one of the great observatories orbiting Earth.

They show what happened after charged particles from a major eruption on the sun hit the gas giant planet.  Those solar eruptions, called coronal mass ejections (CMEs), greatly accelerate the stream of charged particles that emanate from the sun.  These CMEs compress Jupiter's magnetosphere, the region of space controlled by Jupiter's magnetic field, shifting its boundary with the solar wind inward by more than a million miles. This new study found that the interaction at the boundary triggers the X-rays in Jupiter's auroras.  It’s the same effect that occurs here on Earth, but on a much bigger scale. 

This is new research…the first time that this phenomenon on Jupiter has been studied in the X-Ray spectrum.  These composite images show Jupiter and its aurora during and after a CME's arrival at Jupiter in October 2011. In these images, X-ray data from Chandra (purple) have been overlaid on an optical image from the Hubble Space Telescope. The left-hand panel reveals the X-ray activity when the CME reached Jupiter, and the right-hand side is the view two days later after the CME subsided. The impact of the CME on Jupiter's aurora was tracked by monitoring the X-rays emitted during two 11-hour observations. The scientists used that data to pinpoint the source of the X-ray activity and identify areas to investigate further at different time points. They plan to find out how the X-rays form by collecting data on Jupiter's magnetic field, magnetosphere and aurora using Chandra and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space observatory.

Pretty cool, eh?

About the Author: