Overlaid images of Jupiter's pole from NASA's Juno satellite and X-ray telescope. Sources: NASA / Chandra / Juno Wolk / Dunn

Jupiter’s Striking X-Ray Aurora Mystery Cracked By Experts

Despite the fact that the auroras on Earth are formed by a similar mechanism, scientists did not even consider it as one of the main theories for the phenomenon on Jupiter.

A team of researchers from University College London and the Chinese Academy of Sciences has tracked down the source of the bright X-rays that flash on Jupiter every few minutes. Thus, they unraveled the mystery of this phenomenon, the reasons for which remained unknown for the last 40 years. We finally understand Jupiter’s auroras!


Everything you need to know about Jupiter’s Auroras

1. X-rays are a component of the planet’s aurora, which forms when the planet’s gas envelope interacts with charged particles. It is also present on Earth, but Jupiter is distinguished by much stronger flows of energy.

2. In this study, scientists combined the results of several observations and measurements. So, from the XMM-Newton observatory, owned by ESA, X-ray measurements were obtained, and the Juno satellite (NASA) provided information on detailed observations of the planet during the fixation of flares.

We finally received an answer on the phenomenon known as Jupiter’s auroras. Astronomers realized the compression of the planet’s magnetic field. Particles get heated and pushed along the magnetic field lines towards the atmosphere, which results in the X-ray auroras that made astronomers wonder for 40 years. Credit: ESA / NASA / Yao / Dunn

3. It was possible to establish that the source of X-rays is the oscillations of the lines of force of the magnetic field. Due to these vibrations, waves of ionized gas (plasma) are formed. Ion particles move in the direction of the field lines.

4. Ultimately, they collide with Jupiter’s atmosphere and release a huge amount of energy – the same X-ray radiation.

Illustration of the wave-particle interaction and the consequent Jupiter X-Ray emissions. Credit: Zhonghua Yao
Illustration of the wave-particle interaction and the consequent Jupiter X-Ray emissions. Credit: Zhonghua Yao

5. According to co-author of the project, William Dunn of the Space Research Laboratory, scientists have been observing Jupiter’s aurora for several decades. In this case, only its cause was known – the collision of ions with the atmosphere.

6. Now, however, a method has been discovered by which ions reach their destination. Despite the fact that the aurora on Earth is formed by a similar mechanism, scientists did not even consider it as one of the theories.

Reconstructed view of Jupiter's auroras from the Juno Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph Instrument. The data was collected in December 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Bertrand Bonfond
Reconstructed view of Jupiter’s auroras from the Juno Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph Instrument. The data was collected in December 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Bertrand Bonfond

7. Auroras have been recorded on several planets in the solar system. Since it is a consequence of the interaction of solar wind particles with the planet’s magnetosphere, the activity of the aurora depends on the strength of the magnetic field.

8. On Venus, it is light blurry spots. On Mars, the most active glow was recorded in the area of ​​localization of the magnetic field.

9. The auroras of the giant planets are more intense. This is due to the peculiarities of their magnetic fields. The highest northern lights are observed at Saturn – 1200 km.

10. Another distinctive feature of Jupiter is the influence of its satellites: Europa, Io, Ganymede, which move in the magnetosphere.


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Sources:

Choi, C. Q. (2021, July 9). Mystery of Jupiter’s powerful X-ray auroras finally solved. Space.com.
ESA. (n.d.). The mystery of what causes Jupiter’s X-ray auroras is solved.
Greicius, T. (2017, September 6). Jupiter’s Auroras Present a Powerful Mystery. NASA.
Morrow, A. (2016, June 29). Hubble Captures Vivid Auroras in Jupiter’s Atmosphere. NASA.
Starr, M. (n.d.). A Mystery of Jupiter’s Constant Aurora Has Finally Been Solved After 40 Years. ScienceAlert.
Yao, Z. (2021, July 1). Revealing the source of Jupiter’s x-ray auroral flares. Science Advances.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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