Hubble Telescope Captures Stunning Views Of Jupiter’s Auroras

Earth isn’t the only planet to have the stunning light show known as aurora – thanks to the Hubble telescope we can now clearly see the beautiful phenomenon also taking place on the largest planet in our solar system; Jupiter. Hubble has captured some incredible images from the planet, which will help scientists in their quest to learn more about the planet and our solar system in general.

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Image source: Wikipedia

The mesmerising images show the light show on the giant planet, in an area bigger than the size of earth. The event occurs when high-energy particles collide with gases over the poles of Jupiter. The resulting aurora are hundreds of times more active than those on our planet and are also constant, unlike our Northern and Southern lights. NASA’s Hubble telescope is spending a month observing the planet and scientists are hoping that its findings will reveal exactly how the aurora function there.

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Image source: NASA/ESA

The auroras on Jupiter were first discovered back in 1979 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. Scientists found that they differed from those on our planet as they are continuous, and therefore have a different way of forming. Though they believe that the planet’s incredibly powerful magnetic field may play a big part in the activity by speeding up particles around it, thus far it has remained a mystery exactly how it does this.

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Image source: NASA/ESA

Meanwhile, NASA’s Juno probe has just reached the giant planet, after an epic 5 year journey that has seen it travel 1.8 billion miles. Astronomers are using the data collected by Juno alongside the images taken by Hubble to further their understanding of the gas giant. They are hoping it will reveal more about the planet’s magnetic field; in particular how it combines with solar wind and also what is causing it to occur.

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Image source: NASA

The Juno probe is equipped with a pair of magnometres that will hopefully enable it to look inside the planet with the aim of discovering the cause of its aurora. Jack Connerney, deputy principal investigator and head o the magnetometer team at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland, said: ‘The best way to think of a magnetometer is like a compass. Compasses record the direction of a magnetic field. But magnetometers expand on that capability and record both the direction and magnitude of the magnetic field.

This is our first opportunity to do very precise, high-accuracy mapping of the magnetic field of another planet. We are going to be able to explore the entire three-dimensional space around Jupiter, wrapping Jupiter in a dense net of magnetic field observations completely covering the sphere.’

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Image source: NASA/JPL

Juno has already sent back over a thousand images of Jupiter, including the one above taken on 29 June, which was the last image recorded before it entered the planet’s orbit. Now it has successfully passed through the first stage of the planet’s volatile radiation-filled  atmosphere it has taken more images, including the one below showing the planet alongside its 4 biggest moons. With the probe set to orbit the planet 37 times before the mission is completed in 2018, it is very possible that scientists will have a much better understanding of its aurora very soon.

ThumbImage source: NASA/JPL