Distant planet aurorae modeled

July 21, 2011 at 6:53 PM   |   Comments

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass., July 21 (UPI) -- Earth's aurorae, or Northern and Southern Lights, are spectacular, but on a distant "hot Jupiter" they could be 1,000 times brighter, U.S. astronomers say.

Researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said new research suggests they also would ripple from equator to poles due to the planet's proximity to any stellar eruptions, bathing the entire planet in an otherworldly spectacle.

"I'd love to get a reservation on a tour to see these aurorae!" said lead author Ofer Cohen.

Earth's aurorae are created when energetic particles from the Sun slam into our planet's magnetic field, which guides them to the poles to collide with molecules in the atmosphere that begin to glow like a neon sign.

Cohen and his colleagues used computer models to study what would happen if a gas giant in a close orbit, just a few million miles from its star, were hit by such a solar eruption.

A "hot Jupiter" would feel a stronger and more focused blast, they said.

"The impact to the exoplanet would be completely different than what we see in our solar system, and much more violent," said co-author Vinay Kashyap.

Over the course of about 6 hours, the aurora would ripple up and down from the equator toward the planet's north and south poles before gradually fading away, the researchers said.

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