Jupiter’s powerful aurora is surprisingly different from Earth’s

Sep 6, 2017

By Leah Crane

Not all auroras are created equal. Jupiter’s auroral glow is much stronger than Earth’s, so researchers assumed it was caused by the same process that generates our planet’s brightest auroras. But new observations from NASA’s Juno spacecraft show that’s not true.

“For many years we thought we understood Jupiter’s aurora,” says John Clarke at Boston University. “But then Juno got there and it went through these magnetic fields right above an active aurora, and it didn’t see what we thought it would.”

Now, Barry Mauk at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and his colleagues have analysed Juno’s data and found that the likely cause of powerful auroras on Jupiter is one does something quite different on Earth.

On our planet, most intense auroras are the result of powerful electric fields building up along Earth’s magnetic fieldlines. This creates wells of electric potential – areas where the electric field changes sharply – that accelerate electrons from the solar wind toward the ground.

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