science

Discover a strange new feature in Jupiter’s Aurora

Discover a strange new feature in Jupiter's Aurora

Jupiter's northern lights.

Jupiter’s northern lights.
picture: NASA, European Space Agency and J Nichols (University of Leicester)

A newly discovered aurora feature on Jupiter bears a striking resemblance to expanding smoke rings, in a discovery made by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

new Research Published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics describes faint, ring-shaped auroral features on Jupiter, the largest of which is about 1,240 miles (2,000 km) in diameter. Expanding rapidly, the rings, or “circularly expanding UV emissions” in the words of the researchers, were recorded at speeds between 2 and 4.8 mph (3.3 Wh 7.7 km / s).

As on Earth, Jupiter’s auroral features are associated with charged particles within the magnetosphere.

Location of Jupiter's Northern Lights (left), graphical representation of a newly discovered ring-like feature (top right) and a series of false-color images showing an expanding ring over time (bottom right).

Jupiter’s Northern Lights location (left), graphical representation of a newly discovered ring-like feature (top right) and an error sequence.Color images show an extended loop over time (bottom right).
picture: NASA / SWRI / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / V. Hugh / GR Gladstone / P. Bonfond

“We believe these faint features of the newly discovered UV rays originate millions of miles from Jupiter, near the boundary of the Jovian magnetosphere with the solar wind,” said Vincent Hugh, lead author of the paper and a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute.He said in Prof. statement. “The solar wind is a supersonic stream of charged particles emitted by the sun. When they reach Jupiter, they interact with its magnetosphere in a way that is still not well understood.”

Jupiter’s magnetosphere, 20,000 times the force of Earth, is so strong that the gas giant can deflect the incoming solar wind at distances of two million people. And the 3 million miles. Thomas Greathouse, co-author of the new study A SWRI research scientist, Rapid Jupiter said “The 10-hour rotation is largely responsible for the movement of charged particles within its magnetosphere,” he said in the statement, but “the role of the solar wind is still debated.”

An animation showing an expanding auroral ring on Jupiter.
GIF: NASA / SWRI / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / V. Hugh / GR Gladstone / P. Bonfond

This is what we know from the Hubble Space Telescope, but NASA’s Juno spacecraft allows for a more intimate observation of the gas giant. In orbit around Jupiter since 2016 and eIronically, using UV spectrophotometer, Juno detected rapidly expanding rings, which had not yet been seen.

Charged particles appear to emanate from the outer extensions of the magnetosphere. “The position of the rings at high latitude indicates that the emitting particles come from the distant Jovian magnetosphere, near its boundary with the solar wind,” said Bertrand Bonfond, a co-author and astrophysicist from the University of Liège in Belgium, and explained in a SWRI statement..

The formation of wave-like features, technically known as Kelvin-Helmholtz instability, can be caused by the interaction of the Jovian plasma and the solar wind; These instabilities occur in the presence of shear velocities, a process similar to how winds over water are stimulated to form waves. However, in this case, the reaction produces particle beams that travel along the magnetic field lines, which in turn form toroidal auroras, according to the SWRI statement.

However, the authors don’t actually make any major claims in their research paper about the reason for the newly discovered feature. This is something for a future study to investigate.

The good news is that NASA has extended Juno’s mission until 2025, which means planetary scientists have more time to study this planet. And majestic kindness.

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