As NASA's Juno Spacecraft heads toward the solar system's biggest planet, astronomers have also turned the attention of the Hubble Telescope toward Jupiter to assist in the research. One of the images that has returned reveals a light show at Jupiter's poles that will make anything taking place at Burning Man look like Dad's boring Christmas lights in comparison.
The Hubble has photographed a massive aurora on Jupiter that, unlike our own Northern Lights, never stops and covers an area larger than Earth itself. Auroras are created when "high energy particles enter a planet’s atmosphere near its magnetic poles and collide with atoms of gas." On Jupiter, home of gads of storms like the Great Red Spot, this process never ceases creating an ongoing light show that was first discovered by the Star Trek-loving Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1979.
Tackle 7 Pounds of Seafood in One Sandwich
On Earth the aurora borealis is caused by solar storms, but the aurora on Jupiter doesn't stop because it pulls charged particles from its surroundings, including particles from incredibly fast solar winds and the volcanos on Io, one of Jupiter's moons and the most volcanically active orb in the solar system.
“These auroras are very dramatic and among the most active I have ever seen," says Jonathan Nichols from the University of Leicester, UK, a principal investigator of the study. “It almost seems as if Jupiter is throwing a firework party for the imminent arrival of Juno.”
Juno is expected to enter Jupiter's orbit on July 4 to study the planet's solar winds, which it has already discovered are making some surprising sounds. Heard in the video above, the sound is called a bow shock, and is similar to a sonic boom. "The solar wind blows past all the planets at a speed of about a million miles per hour, and where it hits an obstacle, there’s all this turbulence," explains William Kurth of the University of Iowa in Iowa City, lead co-investigator for the Waves investigation.
Unfortunately, we're not going to get a better view of Jupiter's aurora, but you can always splurge and go stay in a glass igloo and watch the pretty impressive Northern Lights right here on your home planet.