Jupiter's Moons Are Causing Disturbances In Its Aurora

Jupiter’s aurora is the most powerful and amazing light display in our solar system. It looks similar to the auroras we see here on Earth but thousands of times brighter and many times bigger than them.

On Earth, auroras like Northern Lights appear briefly in the planet’s poles. They are produced when solar wind enters the Earth’s atmosphere. In contrast, Jupiter’s aurora glows all the time and is believed to be driven by factors within the system.

While Jupiter’s aurora does not require solar activity, it certainly involves interaction between the Jovian planet and its moons. Using data collected by NASA’s Juno probe, researchers have discovered that two of Jupiter’s moons cause “footprints” in the planet’s aurora. These footprints are disturbances in aurora caused by the presence of either Io or Ganymede moon. When Io passes close to Jupiter, it creates a double trail of loops and curls in a small section of an aurora. These squiggles disappear when the moon moves away from the planet.

The other moon Ganymede also creates a glowing footprint on aurora. The footprint initially looked like a single spot but closer views showed that the spot is actually divided into two. Researchers say that Ganymede is the only moon orbiting Jupiter that has its own magnetic field. So, the particular footprint could represent the interaction of two magnetospheres.

Jupiter’s auroras were first discovered by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1979 and since then they have been observed by many telescopes. But the forces that drive auroras are still poorly understood. The latest observations, however, can help researchers understand the interaction between the planet and its moons and how strong magnetic forces can act at natural environment.

“We present infrared observations, obtained with the Juno spacecraft, showing that in the case of Io, this emission exhibits a swirling pattern that is similar in appearance to a von Kármán vortex street,” Authors wrote in the study

‘Well downstream of the main auroral spots the extended tail is split in two. Both of Ganymede’s footprints also appear as a pair of emission features, which may provide a remote measure of Ganymede’s magnetosphere. These features suggest that magnetohydrodynamic interaction between Jupiter and its moon is more complex than previously anticipated.”

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