A rendering depicts Jupiter's intense X-ray aurora. Photo by UCL
LONDON, March 23 (UPI) -- As observations from NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory reveal, Jupiter's X-ray auroras put Earth's Northern Lights to shame.
According to researchers at the University College London, Jupiter's light show is eight times brighter and several hundred of times more energetic than Earth's.
Like on Earth, Jupiter's auroras are the product of collisions between the gas giant's magnetosphere, or magnetic field, and solar storms.
Solar winds are constantly bumping up against the electromagnetic currents that surround Jupiter, but this is the first time astronomers have observed the arrival of a major solar storm.
"There's a constant power struggle between the solar wind and Jupiter's magnetosphere," William Dunn, a PhD student at UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, said in a news release. "We want to understand this interaction and what effect it has on the planet."
Dunn is the lead author of a new paper Jupiter's X-ray auroras, published this week in the journal Space Physics.
"By studying how the aurora changes, we can discover more about the region of space controlled by Jupiter's magnetic field, and if or how this is influenced by the Sun," Dunn explained. "Understanding this relationship is important for the countless magnetic objects across the galaxy, including exoplanets, brown dwarfs and neutron stars."
The latest analysis was made possible by observations gathered in 2011 by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. The observatory imaged X-rays emitted over the course of two 11-hour periods, as a solar storm approached and collided with Jupiter.
The imagery showed the stronger solar winds of major storms compress Jupiter's magnetosphere and trigger intense X-ray outbursts.
Researchers hope the new data will aid their quest to better understand the influence of solar radiation in the outer solar system.
"Comparing new findings from Jupiter with what is already known for Earth will help explain how space weather is driven by the solar wind interacting with Earth's magnetosphere," said study supervisor Graziella Branduardi-Raymont. "New insights into how Jupiter's atmosphere is influenced by the Sun will help us characterize the atmospheres of exoplanets, giving us clues about whether a planet is likely to support life as we know it."
NASA's Juno probe, currently en route to Jupiter, will begin studying Jupiter's magnetic field and polar magnetosphere this summer.