See Jupiter’s Psychedelic Auroras Like Never Before

Using Hubble's ultraviolet capabilities, the light show comes to life

Jupiter's auroras

Jupiter's auroras

Auroras on Jupiter, as seen from Hubble and coinciding with spacecraft Juno's approach.NASA/ESA

Huge, endless auroras cap Jupiter's poles, now brought into better view by Hubble's latest image.

First discovered in 1979 by NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft, the auroras were then photographed in collaboration with Cassini in 2000 and again in 2007 when New Horizons flew by.

This is the first time, however, that we've seen Jupiter's aurora with the Hubble Space Telescope's ultraviolet capabilities. The north pole aurora covers an area larger than Earth, and is hundreds of times more energetic than Earth's own auroras. Jupiter's strong magnetic field and particles thrown by its moon Io help fuel the colorful display.

Jupiter's auroras, seen in 2007

Jupiter's auroras, 2007

The auroras on Jupiter's poles were photographed by Hubble during the New Horizons flyby in 2007.NASA/ESA, The Hubble Heritage Team

Auroras form when high energy particles collide with atoms of gas in the atmosphere around a planet's poles. This is important to study, since its components could reveal reactions happening within Jupiter's solar wind, a stream of charged particles ejected from the Sun.

The images coincide with work done in Juno's approach. The spacecraft will collect data in Jupiter's solar wind, and will eventually fly over the planet's north pole in its early July close-pass, which should allow for even more stunning views. Hubble will continue to study the auroras for about a month, and the information each gathers will help better understand this mysterious giant.

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Hubble Captures Vivid Auroras in Jupiter's Atmosphere This composite video illustrates the auroras on Jupiter relative to their position on the giant planet. As on Earth, auroras are produced by the interaction of a planet's magnetic field with its atmosphere. The Jupiter auroras observed by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope are some of the most active and brightest ever caught by Hubble, reaching intensities over a thousand times brighter than those seen on Earth. Hubble's sensitivity to ultraviolet light captures the glow of the auroras above Jupiter's cloud top. The auroras were photographed on May 19, 2016, during a series of far-ultraviolet-light observations taking place as NASA's Juno spacecraft approaches and enters into orbit around Jupiter. The aim of the program is to determine how Jupiter's auroras respond to changing conditions in the solar wind, a stream of charged particles emitted from the sun. The full-color disk of Jupiter in this video was separately photographed at a different time by Hubble's Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program, a long-term Hubble project that annually captures global maps of the outer planets. Auroras are formed when charged particles in the space surrounding the planet are accelerated to high energies along the planet's magnetic field. When the particles hit the atmosphere near the magnetic poles, they cause it to glow like gases in a fluorescent light fixture. Jupiter's magnetosphere is 20,000 times stronger than Earth's. These observations will reveal how the solar system's largest and most powerful magnetosphere behaves. Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Nichols (University of Leicester), and G. Bacon (STScI) Acknowledgment: A. Simon (NASA/GSFC) and the OPAL team #nasagoddard #hubble #aurora #jupiter

A post shared by NASA Goddard (@nasagoddard) on Jun 30, 2016 at 9:27am PDT