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Many people have heard of auroras, also called the 'northern lights', which are spectacular light shows that occur near Earth's poles. What might not be as well known is that other planets in our Solar System also experience auroras. Jupiter is one of them.

A new study using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has shown that storms from the Sun are triggering auroras in X-ray light that are some eight times brighter than normal, covering a large area of Jupiter's surface. These Jovian auroras are hundreds of times more energetic than the auroras we have here on Earth.

These latest results represent the first time that Jupiter's auroras have been studied in X-ray light when a giant storm from the Sun arrives at the planet. The Sun constantly ejects streams of particles into space in the solar wind. Sometimes, giant storms erupt and the winds become much stronger. These events compress Jupiter's magnetosphere, the region of space controlled by Jupiter's magnetic field, shifting its boundary with the solar wind inward by more than a million miles. This new study found that the interaction at the boundary triggers the X-rays in Jupiter's auroras, which cover an area bigger than the surface of the Earth.

The discovery comes as NASA's Juno spacecraft nears Jupiter for the start of its mission this summer. Launched in 2011, Juno aims to unlock the secrets of Jupiter's origin, helping scientists to better understand how the solar system, including Earth, formed. As part of the mission, Juno will investigate Jupiter's relationship with the Sun and the solar wind by studying its magnetic field, magnetosphere and aurora. To complement the work being done by Juno, the researchers on this latest study plan to find out how the X-rays form by collecting more data with Chandra as well as with ESA's XMM-Newton.
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(Credit: NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Return to Jupiter (March 22, 2016)