Jupiter's 40-year old mystery has finally been solved! Astronomers studied the origins of the unusual X-ray auroras found on Jupiter and saw that the electrically charged atoms, or ions, that were responsible for the particular X-rays are actually "surfing" electromagnetic waves in the whole magnetic field down to Jupiter's own atmosphere.
Jupiter's Northern and Southern Lights Mystery
According to NASA, the mystery behind Jupiter's northern and southern lights has finally been deciphered. The planetary astronomers were able to combine measurements from NASA's own Juno spacecraft that was orbiting Jupiter along with data coming from the ESA's own Earth-orbiting XMM-Newton mission. This then helped them crack the 40-year-old mystery of the origin of the X-ray auroras on Jupiter.
A recent paper in the journal Science Advances was published on July 9, 2021 detailing the findings. It was also noted that Jupiter actually has the most powerful auroras in the entire solar system.
Jupiter's 40-Year Mystery Solved
The fascination for Jupiter's X-ray auroral emission started four decades ago. On Earth, the auroras are usually visible starting in a belt that is surrounding the magnetic poles located about between 65 and 80 degrees latitude. Past 80 degrees, auroral emission disappears due to the magnetic field lines leaving earth and connecting to the magnetic field in the solar wind.
This is the constant flux of electronically charged particles that are ejected by the sun. Both Jupiter's and Saturn's high-latitude polar regions, however, are not expected to emit those substantial auroras.
X-Ray Auroras Stretching Miles Into Space
The peculiar thing about Jupiter's X-ray auroras is that they exist poleward of the main auroral belt and simply pulsate. Those at the north pole are usually different from those at the south pole.
Scientists had been studying the phenomenon through computer simulations and were able to link the pulsating X-ray auroras to the close magnetic fields that are generated inside Jupiter and stretch millions of miles into space. It was stated that the fluctuations of Jupiter's magnetic field is what caused the pulsating X-ray auroras.
Jupiter's Extensive Magnetic Field
The magnetic field outer boundary is struck directly between the particles of the solar wind and then compressed. The compressions heat the ions trapped in Jupiter's own extensive magnetic field located millions of miles away from the planet's own atmosphere.
This would trigger EMIC or electromagnetic ion cyclotron waves. Guided by the field, the ions then ride the EMIC wave through millions of miles before slamming into the planet's atmosphere which would trigger the X-ray auroras. Aside from the planet's 79 moons, its X-ray auroras are also another amazing thing about the planet.
Now that the missing puzzle piece has been identified, it finally opens up a wealth of possibilities where it could be next studied. An example of this is Jupiter's magnetic field filled with sulfur and oxygen ions emitted by volcanoes on the moon. At Saturn, the moon Enceladus jets the water into space which then fills Saturn's magnetic field with different water group ions.
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Written by Urian B.