Tokio, Japan – Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) observed Jupiter’s X-ray aurora for the first time during the onslaught of a solar storm. The team used NASA’s Chandra X-ray telescope to observe Jupiter’s northern lights, being able to describe how auroras are originated outside earth. The data was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Jupiter’s northern lights had never been observed before. The planet’s high-energy X-ray aurora was recently observed for the first time.

The image of Jupiter and its moons Io and Ganymede was acquired by amateur astronomer Damian Peach on Sept. 12, 2010, when Jupiter was close to opposition. South is up and the “Great Red Spot” is visible in the image. Credit: Damian Peach/ NASA

The data observed showed that a massive solar storm bombarded the planet with high-energy particles and electromagnetic radiation, making more intense than on earth. The storm was so intense that X-rays were ejected from the ionization of Jupiter’s atmosphere.

The team led by JAXA but that also included a researcher from Imperial have also discovered that the acceleration necessary for the X-ray aurora is triggered by the solar wind.

“The sun is constantly pouring out charged particles, the solar wind. A solar storm is when you have a massive ejection of these particles, which erupts into space.” lead author Will Dunn explained in a Skype interview with The Christian Science Monitor.

What caused the northern lights?

Auroras are caused by charged particles hitting a planet’s atmosphere at high speed. On Earth, we see this as the Northern and Southern Lights over the Polar Regions.

Other planets in the solar system, like Jupiter, also have auroras over their polar regions, but these are not just seen in the visible part of the spectrum. There are also auroras in the UV and X-ray portions of the spectrum, invisible to the naked eye, but extremely vivid when looked at with the right instruments.

Jupiter’s northern lights are created when the gas giant’s prodigious magnetic field interacts with charged particles from the Sun. Chief among Jupiter’s space weather mysteries is a bright x-ray aurora, located near the planet’s north pole.

The observation was scheduled

The scientists were able to predict when to observe the northern light is Jupiter by watching the storm’s progress from the sun, past Earth, and on out across the solar system. They scheduled an observation window using NASA’s Chandra X-ray telescope.

Just when they predicted the storm would hit, the scientists observed two things: brilliant flares, brighter than ever before seen on Jupiter, and the acceleration of an X-ray “lighthouse” that ordinarily pulses every 45 minutes almost doubling its rate, emitting a burst of X-ray energy at 26-minute intervals.

Source: Christian Science Monitor