Observations from U.S. space agency NASA and European Space Agency’s telescopes have unveiled that Jupiter generates X-rays into its atmosphere. Consequently, the phenomenon causes the beautiful auroras seen above the gaseous giant’s two poles — quite akin to the aurora borealis seen on Earth.
Jupiter’s Puzzling Auroras
The finding, however, has taken scientists by surprise because huge gaseous planets are not known to generate any X-rays — in fact, neither does Jupiter’s neighboring planet, Saturn. Therefore, the researchers are pondering over the question on how does Jupiter emit X-rays?
Moreover, researchers have discovered another puzzling occurrence, observed by them for the first time — that each of Jupiter’s poles pulses at totally different, and sometimes even, erratic frequencies. The northern pole auroras have been found to flare up without consistency or any warning, whereas the southern pole auroras pulse every 11 minutes consistently.
“Charged particles have to hit Jupiter’s atmosphere at exceptionally fast speeds in order to generate the X-ray pulses that we’ve seen,” said Licia Ray, study coauthor from UK’s Lancaster University. “We don’t yet understand what processes cause this, but these observations tell us that they act independently in the northern and southern hemispheres,” she added.
The findings related to Jupiter’s auroras are a breakthrough in what scientists have known about space and can totally change their perception of how celestial bodies generate auroras.
At present, scientists have suggested two explanations for Jupiter’s poles acting independently of each other. The first suggestion is that conditions in the giant planet’s magnetosphere can shift quickly, therefore whatever influences one pole may not have a similar impact when it reaches the other pole.
Another explanation is that the northern and southern poles of Jupiter somehow have different general activities. The researchers, however, added that some of the ideas they have proposed, regarding the auroras, could inevitably be wrong.
Jupiter Missions Could Help In Solving Aurora’s Mystery
NASA’s Juno spacecraft, which is currently orbiting Jupiter, should gather data that will help solve the puzzle of the auroras related to the largest known planet of the solar system, according to the researchers.
Moreover, ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer is tentatively scheduled to reach the planet by 2029, where it will spend three years observing the gaseous giant and its three largest moons, Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa, in detail. The observations made by the spacecraft could be the key to solving the mystery of Jupiter’s auroras, as well as other puzzles associated with the planet.