Scientists Solve 40-Year Mystery About Jupiter’s Spectacularly Powerful X-ray Aurora

NASA The south pole of Jupiter by NASA’s Juno spacecraft

A research team has solved a decades-long mystery of how Jupiter produces a spectacular burst of X-rays every few minutes.

A research team co-led by UCL (University College London) has solved a decades-long mystery about how Jupiter produces a spectacular X-ray burst every few minutes.

X-rays are part of Jupiter’s auroras – bursts of visible and invisible light that occur when charged particles interact with the planet’s atmosphere. A similar phenomenon occurs on Earth, creating the northern lights, but Jupiter’s is much more powerful, releasing hundreds of gigawatts of energy, enough to briefly power all of human civilization. *

In a new study published in Scientists’ Progress, the researchers combined close-up observations of Jupiter’s environment from NASA’s Juno satellite, which currently orbits the planet, with simultaneous X-ray measurements from the Space Agency’s XMM-Newton observatory. European (found in Earth’s own orbit).

The research team, led by UCL and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, found that the X-ray flares were triggered by periodic vibrations of Jupiter’s magnetic field lines. These vibrations create waves of plasma (ionized gas) that send heavy ion particles “sailing” along magnetic field lines until they break apart in the planet’s atmosphere, releasing energy in the form of X-rays.

Co-lead author Dr. William Dunn (UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory) said: “We watched Jupiter produce X-rays for four decades, but we didn’t know how it happened. We only knew that they were produced when ions collided with the planet’s atmosphere.

“We now know that these ions are carried by plasma waves, an explanation that had not been offered before, although a similar process produces Earth’s own aurora. Therefore, it could be a universal phenomenon, present in many different environments in space.

X-ray auroras occur at Jupiter’s north and south poles, often with the regularity of a clock; During this sighting, Jupiter was producing X-ray bursts every 27 minutes.

The charged ion particles hitting the atmosphere come from volcanic gas flowing into space from giant volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io.

This gas is ionized (its atoms are stripped of electrons) due to collisions in the immediate environment of Jupiter, forming a donut of plasma that surrounds the planet.

El coautor principal, el Dr. Zhonghua Yao (Academia de Ciencias de China, Beijing) dijo: “Ahora que hemos identificado este proceso fundamental, hay muchas posibilidades de estudiarlo a continuación. Probablemente se estén produciendo procesos similares alrededor de Saturno, Urano, Neptuno y posiblemente también exoplanetas, con diferentes tipos de partículas cargadas «montando» las ondas.

La coautora, la profesora Graziella Branduardi-Raymont (Laboratorio de Ciencias Espaciales Mullard de la UCL) dijo: “Los rayos X son típicamente producidos por fenómenos extremadamente poderosos y violentos como los agujeros negros y las estrellas de neutrones, por lo que parece extraño que los planetas simples también los produzcan.

«Nunca podremos visitar los agujeros negros, porque están más allá de los viajes espaciales, pero Júpiter está a la vuelta de la esquina. Con la llegada del satélite Juno a la órbita de Júpiter, los astrónomos ahora tienen una oportunidad fantástica para observar de cerca un entorno que produce x -rayos.