Most of us know that Jupiter has some amazingly colored storms, like the Great Red Spot. It’s swirls and stripes have made this gas giant a wonder to behold, and can even be seen from some home telescopes. Now, scientists have their eye on another astounding and colorful aspect of the fifth planet from the sun.
(Video credit: NASA, ESA, J. Nichols)
This video shows an ultraviolet (false colored, because we can’t “see” UV with our eyes) view of Jupiter’s auroras, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Just like Earth, Jupiter has a magnetic field. Whenever high energy particles enter a planet’s atmosphere near its magnetic pole and smash into atoms of gas, they create auroras, like Earth’s Northern Lights.
On Jupiter, the auroras are huge, and hundreds of times more energetic than they are on Earth. Earth gets its strongest source of auroras from solar storms, but Jupiter, with its immense magnetic field, not only grabs particles from the solar wind (streams of charged particles from the sun), but also from its surroundings, including particles spewed from its volcanic moon, Io.
The aim of the program studying Jupiter’s auroras is not just to produce pretty pictures. Scientists are trying to see how the different types of particles Jupiter’s magnetic field attracts interact with the solar wind. While Hubble is studying the auroras from its orbit around Earth, the Juno space craft, which will be reaching Jupiter’s orbit on July 4th, is measuring the properties of the solar wind. It’s a great collaboration between two pieces of equipment that will give scientists results they haven’t seen before.
“These auroras are very dramatic and among the most active I have ever seen”, says Jonathan Nichols (University of Leicester, UK), who is heading the research. “It almost seems as if Jupiter is throwing a firework party for the imminent arrival of Juno.”
Not only will these images help scientists, they will also help people around the world appreciate the beauty that is in our world and beyond, and hopefully will inspire a new generation of scientists to learn even more!
Melanie R. Meadors is the author of fantasy and science fiction stories where heroes don’t always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She’s been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion. Her work has been published in several magazines, and she was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. Melanie is also a freelance author publicist and publicity/marketing coordinator for both Ragnarok Publications and Mechanical Muse, an independent gaming company. She blogs regularly for GeekMom and The Once and Future Podcast. Her short story “A Whole-Hearted Halfling” is in the anthology Champions of Aetaltis, available now on Amazon. Follow Melanie on Facebook and on Twitter as @MelanieRMeadors.