Let’s suppose for a sec that you are soaring through Jupiter’s turbid skies and you have a pair of x-ray goggles with you, if you see through those goggles, you will witness something far more incredible than anything you have ever seen. Bright flashes of light, more shimmering and powerful than the Sun, happening every 26 minutes and broadening as far as the eye can see. That’s the heart of a massive solar storm newly observed for the first time close to Jupiter’s North Pole.
Artist’s illustration of Jupiter’s magnetosphere interacting with the solar wind. Image Credit: JAXA
When astronomers saw this they thought there was some mistake in the data but there wasn’t any. Researchers are still not sure precisely what’s triggering this massive storm. The main mystery with the Jupiter’s space weather is a bright x-ray aurora, sited near the planet’s North Pole. It just never disappears, but since 2006, researchers have observed it brighten and weaken every 45 minutes, just like a light bulb on a dimmer switch.
Now, recent observations by Will Dunn, a PhD student studying astrophysics at the University College London, with the help of Chandra X-ray observatory and some other telescopes, another twist has been observed to this dazzling enigma.
In a recent research paper published in Journal of Geophysical Research, Dunn and his co-authors explain what took place when a coronal mass ejection—a massive cloud of magnetized plasma that break out from the surface of the Sun—hit the Jupiter’s magnetosphere in 2011.
When this sort of event occurs on Earth, we get the northern lights. On Jupiter, the forever-aurora gets larger and brighter.
Image: Jupiter’s x-ray aurora, Joseph DePasquale, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory/Chandra X-ray Center
So, why Jupiter’s northern lights drop to a specific tempo, and why that flickering accelerated throughout the 2011 solar storm? These are questions that planetary researchers would love to solve and answer.
Dunn said “We think that when a coronal mass ejection crashes into Jupiter’s magnetosphere, it compresses it by about 2 million kilometers”
Jupiter’s aurora also help in understanding how magnetic fields defend planets from powerful stellar outbreaks. And that information may ultimately help in the hunt for life beyond our solar system.