The Science Behind Jupiter’s Powerful Auroras

SeekerPublished: July 10, 2018Updated: July 11, 2018
Published: July 10, 2018Updated: July 11, 2018

Jupiter is the king of the solar system, and the king has a crown. But what is it made of?

Jupiter has auroras. We've known this for a while, Hubble actually spotted them. But they're not regular auroras, they are the most powerful in the solar system. They're also huge; the earth could fit inside them. Yeah, it's awesome. So, before you ask: Yes, Jupiter's aurora is like ours, only larger, except that it is completely not like ours at all.

On Earth, electrons in the magnetic field in our atmosphere get excited by the sun's energy and bump into air particles lighting up the skies. So, scientists thought they'd find something similar on Jupiter. Turns out that was not the case.

We don't understand what is causing Jupiter's auroras, exactly. NASA's ideas are "all wrong" Isn't that fantastic? Using a detector called JEDI, the Juno probe orbited our jovial planet repeatedly, taking measurements of its magnetic field.

We knew Jupiter's magnetic field is the strongest of any planet in our solar system, which should make big aurora, but it turns out it's smaller than expected. Not to mention the auroras don't behave like Earth's at all which may defy the laws of physics! To say the least, it's baffling.
A new study says that the electrons that cause the aurora might be propelled faster by the waves in the magnetic field of Jupiter itself to energies as high as 400,00 volts, although sometimes, the energies are way lower and firing in weird random directions. The researchers who were studying Juno’s data think that the electrons are like tiny electrically charged surfers accelerating on a wave of energy. But why the unstable random generation? Nobody can explain it so far, but the theory is that it comes from deep within the planet and may have something to do with Jup’s radiation waves. We just do not know enough yet.

Pulsars, some exoplanets and star types like white dwarfs can spit lots of radiation and have magnetic fields that can wreak havoc on space crafts. Learning how Jupiter works can help us build future spacecraft and keep them safe as we explore space. It is like learning how to build a boat and survive a lightning strike for the toughest storms in the universe. But instead, it is for the nasty space weather that we know we are going to encounter. To paraphrase captain Sparrow: “Bring me that event horizon!”

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