London – NASA’S Chandra X-ray telescope provided spectacular images from Jupiter’s X-ray version of auroras. Recently published pictures from space show the planet’s the North Pole surrounded by a vivid magenta glow, which is explained by solar storms producing X-ray Northern Lights that are eight times brighter than normal, according to a new study released in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

This aurora in Jupiter, which covers an area larger than Earth’s surface, occurred in 2011. Astronomers say the X-ray glow is hundreds of times more energetic compared to the aurora borealis observed on our planet.

Researchers at the University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory noted that the X-rays lie in a portion of the light spectrum invisible to human eyes. According to the study, this is the first time ever that scientists have been able to examine Jupiter’s aurora and a giant sun storm hitting the planet simultaneously.

NASA’S Chandra X-ray telescope provided spectacular images from Jupiter’s X-ray version of auroras. Photo credit: NASA
NASA’S Chandra X-ray telescope provided spectacular images from Jupiter’s X-ray version of auroras. Photo credit: NASA

Lead author Willian Dunn said in a press release that there is a steady power struggle between Jupiter’s magnetosphere and the solar wind. He commented that he and his colleagues wanted to understand that connection and how it affects the planet.

The study of the changes on the aurora can provide hints about the region of space under control of Jupiter’s magnetic field and whether the sun has any influence on it, Dunn added. By understanding this interaction, scientists can learn more about other magnetic objects across the Milky Way, such as neutron stars, exoplanets and brown dwarfs.

The research team monitored those X-rays throughout 11-hour observations in October 2011 and collected valuable data to compile a spherical 3D image, which they used to locate the source of the X-ray activity.

Dunn said that in 2000 they found a bright ‘hot spot’ of X-rays in the aurora that rotated with Jupiter. “It pulsed with bursts of X-rays every 45 minutes, like a planetary lighthouse. When the solar storm arrived in 2011, we saw that the hot spot pulsed more rapidly, brightening every 26 minutes”, he added.

The lead author commented that his team was unsure about the causes of such increase in speed, but they did note that it becomes quicker during the solar storm. That makes them believe that the pulsations are also linked to the solar wind and the bright new Northern Lights.

How does a solar storm emerge?

The sun never stops shooting out particle streams into space in the form of a solar wind. These winds become more intense as massive storm explodes forth, which causes a compression of Jupiter’s magnetic field. Scientists say that the boundary in space where the planet exerts the strongest magnetic force can move with the wind 1.25 million miles through space. This phenomenon triggers the X-rays in Jupiter’s auroras.

A forthcoming NASA mission could also teach us more about Jupiter’s origin

NASA’s Juno spacecraft mission expected to reach Jupiter is scheduled for this summer. The main goal of the project is to provide astronomers with more data about Jupiter’s origin, as well as how the solar system formed.

Juno is expected to study the interaction between Jupiter’s magnetosphere and the solar winds. NASA is looking to determine how these X-rays form by using data collected by the XMM-Newton, the European Space Agency’s X-Ray space observatory, and NASA’S own Chandra X-ray observatory.

Source: CBS News