The northern lights are not Earth’s prerogative. Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, also has an auroras to offer, discovered in 1979 by NASA’s Voyager 1 space probe, but since then, it hasn’t been clear exactly how Jupiter’s northern lights are born. Are the processes there at least similar to those in the Earth’s magnetosphere? Or is there something completely different at work? A research team led by Zhonghua Yao of the Chinese Academy of Sciences now has In “Science Advances” Offer at least a partial solution.
To do this, the researchers combined in-situ measurements with observations from the ESA XMM-Newton space telescope, which targets space in the X-ray range of the electromagnetic spectrum. The northern lights of Jupiter may be amazing, after all, of all the planets in our solar system, they have the strongest magnetic field. However, this is exactly why, unlike their terrestrial counterparts, very few of these very bright polar lights can be seen in the visible area. It is so active that it mainly glows in the ultraviolet and X-rays above the polar regions of Jupiter.
While the XXM-Newton Space Telescope can observe Jupiter’s aurora borealis from Earth orbit, NASA’s Juno space probe is at the position of Jupiter. Juno has been researching the gas planet since 2016 and can also study the magnetosphere. On July 16 and 17 2017, Zhonghua Yao’s team was able to observe aurora activity at Jupiter’s north pole with the help of XXM-Newtons, while the Juno space probe made measurements of the gas giant’s magnetic field during the same period.
Juno and XXM-Newton provide clues about the origin of Jupiter’s northern lights
On Earth, simply put, interactions between the Earth’s magnetic field and charged particles such as electrons and protons are responsible for the aurora borealis. The solar wind, and the outflow of charged particles from our central star, play a major role in this. They send those charged particles on their journey through the solar system in the first place. With Jupiter, far away, the solar wind may also play a role. In addition, Jupiter’s moon Io acts as a supplier of charged particles: Io is volcanically active and produces sulfur dioxide gas in the process. Jupiter’s magnetosphere is gradually enriched with sulfur and oxygen ions.