With just a few days remaining before the Juno spacecraft finally reaches Jupiter, new images of the gas giant highlight the light show at its north pole. Thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists have a spectacular view of the never-ending dance of the auroras—and it may be just a taste of what Juno could reveal.
Jupiter's auroras were discovered in 1979 by the Voyager spacecraft and were so intriguing that they inspired a whole field of astronomy dedicated to Jupiter’s space weather. The planet's powerful magnetic field drags in charged particles from the solar wind, sparking the glowing blue swirls, Maddie Stone reports for Gizmodo.
"These auroras are very dramatic and among the most active I have ever seen," astronomer Jonathan Nichols from the University of Leicester says in a statement. "It almost seems as if Jupiter is throwing a fireworks party for the imminent arrival of Juno."
As the charged particles streak across the gas giant’s skies, they release bursts of ultraviolet light that put on an amazing light show, Jacob Aron reports for the New Scientist. But unlike Earth’s auroras, which can be seen by the naked eye, Jupiter's auroras glow in ultraviolet light. Also, while Earth's Northern Lights are fleeting, Jupiter’s north pole is constantly swirling with an ultraviolet magnetic storm.
In order to create these images, the Hubble surveyed Jupiter daily for several months. But once Juno arrives in the gas giant’s orbit on July 4 to begin its own observations of the planet’s magnetic field, it could help scientists learn even more about how the geomagnetic storms affect the planet and how they got their start, Nsikan Akpan reports for the PBS Newshour.
Hubble is still beaming back more data and will continue to monitor Jupiter in support of the Juno mission, according to a statement from Hubble researchers. Between Juno and the Hubble’s combined forces, Jupiter’s massive geomagnetic storms may reveal new insights into the effects this beautiful space weather has on the gas giant’s atmosphere.