The mystery of what causes Jupiter’s X-ray auroras is solved

The 40-year-old mystery of what causes Jupiter’s X-ray auroras has been solved. For the primary time, astronomers have seen all the mechanism at work – and it might be a course of occurring in lots of different elements of the Universe too.

Jupiter’s mysterious X-ray auroras defined

Now, for the primary time, they’ve seen the ions ‘surfing’ electromagnetic waves in Jupiter’s magnetic discipline, down into the ambiance.The very important clues got here from a brand new evaluation of information from ESA’s XMM-Newton telescope and NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Situated in Earth’s orbit, XMM-Newton makes distant observations of Jupiter at X-ray wavelengths. Juno then again circles the enormous planet itself, taking in-situ readings from inside Jupiter’s magnetic discipline. But the query was: what ought to the workforce search for?The clue got here when Zhonghua Yao, Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, and lead creator of the brand new research, realised that one thing didn’t make sense about Jupiter’s X-ray auroras.On Earth, auroras are seen solely in a belt surrounding the magnetic poles, between 65 and 80 levels latitude. Beyond 80 levels, auroral emission disappears as a result of the magnetic discipline strains right here go away Earth and hook up with the magnetic discipline within the photo voltaic wind, which is the fixed flux of electrically charged particles ejected by the Sun. These are known as open discipline strains and within the conventional image, Jupiter and Saturn’s high-latitude polar areas will not be anticipated to emit substantial auroras.However, Jupiter’s X-ray auroras are inconsistent with this image. They exist poleward of the primary auroral belt, pulsate frequently, and might typically be completely different on the north pole from the south pole. These are typical options of a ‘closed’ magnetic discipline, the place the magnetic discipline line exits the planet at one pole and reconnects with the planet on the different.Using pc simulations, Zhonghua and colleagues beforehand discovered that the pulsating X-ray auroras might be linked to closed magnetic fields which are generated inside Jupiter after which stretch out hundreds of thousands of kilometres into house earlier than turning again.On 16 and 17 July 2017, XMM-Newton noticed Jupiter constantly for 26 hours and noticed X-ray auroras pulsating each 27 minutes. Simultaneously, Juno had been travelling between 62 and 68 Jupiter radii above the planet’s pre-dawn areas. This was precisely the world that the workforce’s simulations urged have been necessary for triggering the pulsations. So, the workforce searched the Juno information for any magnetic processes that have been occurring on the similar price.They discovered that the pulsating X-ray auroras are brought on by fluctuations of Jupiter’s magnetic discipline. As the planet rotates, it drags round its magnetic discipline. The magnetic discipline is struck immediately by the particles of the photo voltaic wind and compressed. These compressions warmth particles which are trapped in Jupiter’s magnetic discipline. This triggers a phenomenon known as electromagnetic ion cyclotron (EMIC) waves, wherein the particles are directed alongside the sphere strains.The particles themselves are electrically charged atoms known as ions. Guided by the sphere, the ions ‘surf’ the EMIC wave throughout hundreds of thousands of kilometres of house, ultimately slamming into the planet’s ambiance and triggering the X-ray aurora.“What we see in the Juno data is this beautiful chain of events. We see the compression happen, we see the EMIC wave triggered, we see the ions, and then we see a pulse of ions traveling along the field line. And then a few minutes later, XMM sees a burst of X-rays,” says William Dunn, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, who co-led the analysis.Now that the method accountable for Jupiter’s X-ray auroras has been recognized for the primary time, it opens up a wealth of prospects for the place it might be studied subsequent. For instance, at Jupiter, the magnetic discipline is stuffed with sulphur and oxygen ions which are spewed out by the volcanoes on the moon Io. At Saturn, the moon Enceladus jets water into house, filling Saturn’s magnetic discipline with water ions.“This is a fundamental process that’s applicable to Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and probably exoplanets as well,” says Zhonghua.It could also be extra extensively relevant even than that as a result of now that the method has been revealed, there is a putting similarity to the ion auroras that occur right here on Earth. In the case of Earth, the ion accountable is a proton, which comes from a hydrogen atom, and the method is not energetic sufficient to create X-rays. Yet, the fundamental course of is that very same. So, Jupiter’s X-ray aurora is basically an ion aurora, though at a lot larger vitality than the proton aurora on Earth.“It could be that EMIC waves play an important role in transferring energy from one place to another across the cosmos,” says William.As for Jupiter itself, the research of its auroras will proceed with ESA’s JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (Juice). Set to reach by 2029, Juice will research the planet’s ambiance, magnetosphere, and the impact that Jupiter’s 4 largest moons have on the auroras.

Exploring Jupiter
Notes for editors:‘Revealing the source of Jupiter’s x-ray auroral flares’ by Z.H. Yao and W.R. Dunn et al. (2021) is printed in Science Advances. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf0851
For extra data, please contact: ESA Media Relations [email protected]

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