Solar activity sparks powerful X-ray aurorae on Jupiter
Solar activity can prompt a massive increase in the intensity of Jupiter's polaraurorae, according to a new study drawing on data collected by NASA'sChandra X-ray Observatory. Charged particles from a powerful solarstorm were observed creating an impressive light show as they struckthe Jovian planet in October 2011.
Jupiter's auroraediffer from those observed taking place in Earth's atmosphere. Asidefrom being far more powerful, they are capable of being generated byJupiter without the aid of any outside influence. As the gas giantspins on its axis roughly once every 10 hours, Jupiter drags itsmagnetic field with it.
This process generatesaround 10 million volts, creating charged particles that interactwith Jupiter's atmosphere to create constant aurorae. Jupiter'ssatellite Io has also been observed to influence the Jovian planet'saurorae by introducing copiousamounts of sulfur and oxygen ions into Jupiter's atmosphere.
The new study hasrevealed that alongside these factors, powerful solar activity canact as the catalyst for significant X-ray aurorae. As powerful solarstorms, or Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), intensify the solar windspervading the solar system, they interact with Jupiter'smagnetosphere.
The research revealsthat the powerful winds have the ability to shift the boundary of the gasgiant's magnetosphere back by as much as a million miles, creating astunning X-ray aurora in the process that is observable by thepowerful X-ray capabilities of the Chandra telescope. In the case of the October 2011 event, solar activity was seen to elevate the intensity of Jupiter's aurorae up to eight times their usual levels.
The image at the top of the page represents a composite utilizing X-ray data collected by theChandra telescope overlayed onto an optical light image snapped bythe Hubble Space Telescope. The images were captured as the stormarrived at Jupiter (left), and two days later (right) as the gas giant'smagnetosphere returned to its ordinary aspect via two 11-hourobservation periods.
Future observationswill make use of the Chandra telescope as well as ESA's XMN-Newtonobservatory in order to further unravel the secrets of Jupiter'smagnetic properties.