by Staff Writers
Pasadena CA (JPL) Sep 07, 2017
Scientists on NASA's Juno mission have observed massive amounts of energy swirling over Jupiter's polar regions that contribute to the giant planet's powerful auroras - only not in ways the researchers expected.
Examining data collected by the ultraviolet spectrograph and energetic-particle detector instruments aboard the Jupiter-orbiting Juno spacecraft, a team led by Barry Mauk of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, observed signatures of powerful electric potentials, aligned with Jupiter's magnetic field, that accelerate electrons toward the Jovian atmosphere at energies up to 400,000 electron volts.
This is 10 to 30 times higher than the largest auroral potentials observed at Earth, where only several thousands of volts are typically needed to generate the most intense auroras - known as discrete auroras - the dazzling, twisting, snake-like northern and southern lights seen in places like Alaska and Canada, northern Europe, and many other northern and southern polar regions.
Jupiter has the most powerful auroras in the solar system, so the team was not surprised that electric potentials play a role in their generation. What's puzzling the researchers, Mauk said, is that despite the magnitudes of these potentials at Jupiter, they are observed only sometimes and are not the source of the most intense auroras, as they are at Earth.
"At Jupiter, the brightest auroras are caused by some kind of turbulent acceleration process that we do not understand very well," said Mauk, who leads the investigation team for the APL-built Jupiter Energetic Particle Detector Instrument (JEDI).
"There are hints in our latest data indicating that as the power density of the auroral generation becomes stronger and stronger, the process becomes unstable and a new acceleration process takes over. But we'll have to keep looking at the data."
Scientists consider Jupiter to be a physics lab of sorts for worlds beyond our solar system, saying the ability of Jupiter to accelerate charged particles to immense energies has implications for how more distant astrophysical systems accelerate particles.
But what they learn about the forces driving Jupiter's auroras and shaping its space weather environment also has practical implications in our own planetary backyard.
"The highest energies that we are observing within Jupiter's auroral regions are formidable. These energetic particles that create the auroras are part of the story in understanding Jupiter's radiation belts, which pose such a challenge to Juno and to upcoming spacecraft missions to Jupiter under development," said Mauk. "
Engineering around the debilitating effects of radiation has always been a challenge to spacecraft engineers for missions at Earth and elsewhere in the solar system.
What we learn here, and from spacecraft like NASA's Van Allen Probes and Magnetospheric Multiscale mission (MMS) that are exploring Earth's magnetosphere, will teach us a lot about space weather and protecting spacecraft and astronauts in harsh space environments.
"Comparing the processes at Jupiter and Earth is incredibly valuable in testing our ideas of how planetary physics works."
Mauk and colleagues present their findings in the Sept. 7 issue of the journal Nature.
Pasadena CA (JPL) Jul 13, 2017
Images of Jupiter's Great Red Spot reveal a tangle of dark, veinous clouds weaving their way through a massive crimson oval. The JunoCam imager aboard NASA's Juno mission snapped pics of the most iconic feature of the solar system's largest planetary inhabitant during its Monday (July 10) flyby. The images of the Great Red Spot were downlinked from the spacecraft's memory on Tuesday and placed o ... read more
Juno at NASA
The million outer planets of a star called Sol
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement|