40-Year Mystery Solved: Source of Jupiter’s X-Ray Flares Uncovered

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The purple hues in this image show X-ray emissions from Jupiter’s auroras, first detected by NASA’s Chandra Space Telescope in 2007.

They are overlaid on an image of Jupiter taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Jupiter is the only gas giant planet where scientists have detected X-ray auroras.

The intense northern and southern lights have puzzled scientists, but mystery has now been solved.

Planetary astronomers combined measurements taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter, with data from ESA’s (the European Space Agency’s) Earth-orbiting XMM-Newton mission, to discover the origins of the unusual X-ray auroras.

For the first time, they have seen the entire mechanism at work: The electrically charged atoms, or ions, responsible for the X-rays are “surfing” electromagnetic waves in Jupiter’s magnetic field down into the atmosphere.

A paper on the study was published on July 9 in the journal Science Advances.

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