While people travel all the way to the northernmost circle of planet Earth to witness the faint but excruciatingly beautiful aurora borealis, planets like Jupiter get an extraordinary light show whenever solar storms collide with their magnetospheres. A group of scientists recently conducted a study on the effect of solar storms on Jupiter and observed an X-ray aurora that is about eight times brighter than what we are used to back on Earth.
The study is the first of its kind and was conducted by researchers from University College London (UCL) who were given access to NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory. The phenomenon that takes place when a solar storm erupts and flies outwards towards the planets of a solar system had never been studied on other planets than ours before.
William Dunn, the author of the research, has used this study to achieve more than just witness the light shows that solar storms spark up at the poles of Jupiter. He believes that the reason behind the luminosity and brightness of the aurora on the gas giant is the result of the way Jupiter’s magnetosphere and the solar wind interact. Because both the magnetic field and the solar wind that comes into collision with it are large, powerful structures, the effect is magnified by a huge amount.
Dunn, Ph.D. student at UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, believes that studying this type impact and understanding its workings can help scientists better grasp the way in which magnetism works in the case of exoplanets, neutron stars, and brown dwarf stars.
According to the study, when the solar wind intensifies to the point that we can say a solar storm is taking place, and it hits Jupiter’s magnetosphere, it moves the boundary of this field almost 1.2 million miles through space. At the point of impact, the northern lights create a show of high energy X-rays that is larger than Earth’s very surface.
The study was completed by monitoring the emission of X-rays at the point of impact on Jupiter during two observations lasting a total of 11 hours. Based on the initial results, the researchers used the data to pinpoint the particular areas that the X-rays were coming from and further study the phenomenon.
A NASA spacecraft named Juno was launched back in 2011 and is close to reaching Jupiter. Its mission is to settle in a polar orbit when it reaches the gas giant in July and study the planet a lot closer than it has ever been done before.
A paper describing the entire study and its conclusions was published yesterday in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Space Physics.
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