Hubble astronomers superimposed recent imagery of Jupiter's auroras onto an older portrait of the gas giant. Photo by Hubble/NASA/ESA
GREENBELT, Md., June 30 (UPI) -- Most planets with an atmosphere experience auroras, the equivalent of the phenomenon at Earth's poles known as the Northern Lights and Southern Lights.
Recently, the Hubble Space Telescope photographed a particularly vivid aurora glowing in the atmosphere above Jupiter's northern pole.
Auroras are created when gas particles in the upper atmosphere are excited by charged particles produced by the interactions between solar winds and a planet's magnetosphere.
NASA's Juno spacecraft is currently riding a particularly strong stream of solar wind to Jupiter. It will soon enter orbit around Jupiter, after which it will spend several months studying the gas giant's atmosphere and magnetosphere.
Currently, Juno is taking direct measurements of the solar wind responsible for Jupiter's most recent auroras. Meanwhile, Hubble is using its ultraviolet cameras to capture the planet's colorful polar light shows.
Auroras typically happen close to a planet's poles, as that is where the magnetosphere is thinnest and most easily disturbed or penetrated by solar wind.
Jupiter's magnetosphere concentrates an excess of charged particles, making it ripe for vivid, high-energy disturbances when strong solar winds arrive. The latest Jupiter auroras are many times larger and more powerful than those on Earth.
"These auroras are very dramatic and among the most active I have ever seen," astronomer Jonathan Nichols, a researcher at the University of Leicester, said in a news release. "It almost seems as if Jupiter is throwing a firework party for the imminent arrival of Juno."