Solar storms trigger Jupiter’s ‘Northern Lights’

Posted: March 23, 2016 by oldbrew in solar system dynamics

Jupiter [image credit: NASA]

Jupiter [image credit: NASA]

Interesting electrical phenomena occurring on Jupiter. When they say things like ‘countless magnetic objects across the galaxy’ they don’t mention that magnetism derives from electricity. The solar wind itself is a stream of charged particles.

Solar storms trigger Jupiter’s intense ‘Northern Lights’ by generating a new X-ray aurora that is eight times brighter than normal and hundreds of times more energetic than Earth’s aurora borealis, finds new UCL-led research using NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory. It is the first time that Jupiter’s X-ray aurora has been studied when a giant storm from the Sun has arrived at the planet.

The dramatic findings complement NASA’s Juno mission this summer which aims to understand the relationship between the two biggest structures in the solar system—the region of space controlled by Jupiter’s magnetic field (i.e. its magnetosphere) and that controlled by the solar wind.

“There’s a constant power struggle between the solar wind and Jupiter’s magnetosphere. We want to understand this interaction and what effect it has on the planet. By studying how the aurora changes, we can discover more about the region of space controlled by Jupiter’s magnetic field, and if or how this is influenced by the Sun. Understanding this relationship is important for the countless magnetic objects across the galaxy, including exoplanets, brown dwarfs and neutron stars,” explained lead author and PhD student at UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, William Dunn.

The Sun constantly ejects streams of particles into space in the solar wind. When giant storms erupt, the winds become much stronger and compress Jupiter’s magnetosphere, shifting its boundary with the solar wind two million kilometres through space. The study found that this interaction at the boundary triggers the high energy X-rays in Jupiter’s Northern Lights, which cover an area bigger than the surface of the Earth.

Published today in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Space Physics a publication of the American Geophysical Union, 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 us to 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. The UCL team hope to find out how the X-rays form by collecting complementary data using the European Space Agency’s X-ray space observatory, XMM-Newton, and NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory.

“Comparing new findings from Jupiter with what is already known for Earth will help explain how space weather is driven by the solar wind interacting with Earth’s magnetosphere. New insights into how Jupiter’s atmosphere is influenced by the Sun will help us characterise the atmospheres of exoplanets, giving us clues about whether a planet is likely to support life as we know it,” said study supervisor, Professor Graziella Branduardi-Raymont, UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

Full report: Solar storms trigger Jupiter’s ‘Northern Lights’

  1. oldbrew says:

    As the IB Times points out: ‘A solar storm is another way of describing a ‘coronal mass ejection’. ‘
    (good graphics here)

    Mashable report:

  2. Paul Vaughan says:

    They can’t even understand lightning on Earth.

  3. oldbrew says:

    Then there’s the 2 trillion watts of the Io Flux Tube:

    ‘As Io moves around its orbit in the strong magnetic field of Jupiter and through this plasma torus, a huge electrical current is set up between Io and Jupiter in a cylinder of highly concentrated magnetic flux called the Io Flux Tube. The Flux Tube has a power output of about 2 trillion watts, comparable to the amount of all manmade power produced on Earth. It is responsible for bursts of radio frequency radiation long detected on Earth.’

  4. Paul Vaughan says:

    Since they can’t even understand lightning on Earth, this looks like a branch of science that hasn’t even been born yet. On this topic I’m inclined to regard with suspicion anything they try to say. They’re missing fundamentals.

  5. oldbrew says:

    PV: Unfortunately Nikola Tesla is no longer around.

    Even if some of his ideas were a bit far out, he led the way in various electricity developments.

    This is a good one, whether true or not:
    ‘Tesla invented a steam-powered mechanical oscillator—Tesla’s oscillator. While experimenting with mechanical oscillators at his Houston Street lab, Tesla allegedly generated a resonance of several buildings. As the speed grew, it is said that the machine oscillated at the resonance frequency of his own building and, belatedly realizing the danger, he was forced to use a sledge hammer to terminate the experiment, just as the police arrived.’

  6. Fast says:

    Sunspot number for today march 24th is down to 14.

  7. oldbrew says:

    Io’s ‘volcanic’ hotspots not what they seem:

    ‘Inspiring further astonishment amongst mission scientists, the “volcanic” plumes emit ultraviolet light — something inconceivable under normal conditions of volcanic venting. But ultraviolet light is of course characteristic of an electric arc.’