Credit: XMM-Newton and ESA
Jupiter's Northern Lights
The aurorae, or northern and southern lights, are well known phenomena on earth. Aurorae are caused by subatomic particles (like electrons and protons) emitted by the sun. These electrically charged particles are captured by the earth's magnetic field, and focussed at the poles, where they excite atoms in the earth's atmosphere which de-excite and produce beautiful sheets of green and red light. What works on earth works on other planets as well, of course. The image above shows the aurora on Jupiter as recently seen by the XMM-Newton X-ray Observatory. This image shows X-ray light produced in Jupiter's magnetosphere (which is about 10 times bigger than the sun). The image on the left shows emission which is dominated by excited oxygen atoms centered on the north pole of the planet. The image on the right shows higher-energy X-rays which are more evenly distributed around the planet.
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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified June 9, 2003