Jupiter’s giant auroras spotted by Hubble are ‘bigger than Earth’

30 Jun 2016

Astronomers are using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to study auroras on the poles of the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter, via NASA, ESA, and J. Nichols

Ahead of Juno’s historic visit to Jupiter next week, Hubble has revealed images of the giant planet’s giant auroras, which encompass a greater area than Earth.

“Dramatic” auroras on the poles of Jupiter have been captured by Hubble, showcasing the true scale of our next celebrity planet.

To go along with the Great Red Spot – a swirling storm that traverses below Jupiter’s equator – these auroras are added weather examples that will go some way towards our understanding of a truly fascinating planet.

Auroras are created when high-energy particles enter a planet’s atmosphere near its magnetic poles. They collide with atoms of gas and produce remarkable light shows, as seen annually on Earth.

Given the make-up of Jupiter’s atmosphere is quite different to ours, with immense storms charged with electricity, NASA researchers are curious as to what differences there are throughout the weather cycle.

Juno is hoped to help fill in these gaps but, until it enters Jupiter’s atmosphere on 4 July, the trusty Hubble Telescope remains our go-to-spacecraft.

“These auroras are very dramatic and among the most active I have ever seen”, said Jonathan Nichols from the University of Leicester, principal investigator of the study.

“It almost seems as if Jupiter is throwing a firework party for the imminent arrival of Juno.”

Aurora Jupiter

Hubble has been monitoring Jupiter far more regularly than normal as Juno approaches, spending months focused on the planet.

The images it produces are composites, with the aurora picture generated by a series of far-ultraviolet images.

The auroras on Jupiter are larger than the surface of Earth, and hundreds of times more magnetic than our equivalents, according to NASA.

Io, Jupiter’s moon, feeds the aurora with particles that would otherwise be lost to space, creating a bigger light show.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic