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A new view of Jupiter’s northern lights

Posted March 27, 2015

Dr Badman from the Department of Physics is a Royal Astronomical Society Research Fellow and led the observations made by Hubble.

An artist's illustration incorporating new Hubble observations of aurora at Jupiter. Image credit: JAXA

An artist’s illustration incorporating new Hubble observations of aurora at Jupiter. Image credit: JAXA

In January 2014, Jupiter was observed by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope as well as the new Hisaki space satellite telescope operated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The observations by the Hisaki and Hubble successfully captured explosions of Jupiter’s extreme ultraviolet emission (EUV) aurora during periods when the solar wind (the constant stream of charged particles travelling away from the Sun) was very quiet.

These explosions are interpreted as the ‘internally-driven’ type aurora, which is associated with the rotation and magnetic field of Jupiter rather than the solar wind.

Dr Badman is the co-author on research in Geophysical Research Letters together with Dr Tomoki Kimura, Research Fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

She said: “The brilliant auroral display seen on Earth during the St Patrick’s Day storm was caused by a cloud of energetic particles and strong magnetic field arriving from the Sun. These new observations show that bright bursts of aurora can occur at Jupiter without the same input from the Sun.”

JAXA’s new space telescope on the Hisaki satellite found bright explosions of Jupiter’s aurora likely driven by the giant planet’s rapid rotation and strong magnetic field. The Hisaki satellite recorded the extreme ultraviolet (EUV) emissions from Jupiter for a long period coordinated with observations by the Hubble Space Telescope in January 2014. Dr Kimura found an explosion of EUV aurora at Jupiter’s northern pole during a period of quiet solar wind.

Jupiter has a much stronger magnetic field than Earth’s. Jupiter’s moon Io, which has the most active volcanoes in our solar system, emits one ton of volcanic gas per second into Jupiter’s magnetosphere. The ionized volcanic gas is picked up by Jupiter’s strong magnetic field and starts rapid co-rotation.

Source: Lancaster University

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