New research reveals secret to Jupiter’s curious aurora activity

Auroral shows continue to intrigue researchers, whether the intense lights shine over Earth or over another world. The lights hold hints to the makeup of a world’s electromagnetic field and how that field runs.

New research about Jupiter shows that point — and includes to the intrigue.

Peter Delamere, a teacher of space physics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, is amongst a global group of 13 scientists who have actually made an essential discovery associated to the aurora of our planetary system’s biggest world.

The group’s work was released April 9, 2021, in the journal Science Advances. The research paper, entitled “How Jupiter’s unusual magnetospheric topology structures its aurora,” was composed by Binzheng Zhang of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Hong Kong; Delamere is the main co-author.

Research made with a freshly established worldwide magnetohydrodynamic design of Jupiter’s magnetosphere supplies proof in assistance of a formerly questionable and slammed concept that Delamere and scientist Fran Bagenal of the University of Colorado at Boulder advanced in a 2010 paper — that Jupiter’s polar cap is threaded in part with closed electromagnetic field lines instead of totally with open electromagnetic field lines, as holds true with a lot of other worlds in our planetary system.

“We as a community tend to polarize — either open or closed — and couldn’t imagine a solution where it was a little of both,” stated Delamere, who has actually been studying Jupiter considering that 2000. “Yet in hindsight, that is exactly what the aurora was revealing to us.”

Open lines are those that originate from a world however track off into space far from the sun rather of reconnecting with a matching place in the opposite hemisphere.

On Earth, for instance, the aurora appears on closed field lines around a location referred to as the auroral oval. It’s the high latitude ring near — however not at — each end of Earth’s magnetic axis.

Within that sound on Earth, nevertheless, and similar to some other worlds in our planetary system, is an empty area referred to as the polar cap. It’s a location where electromagnetic field lines stream out inapplicable — and where the aurorae hardly ever appear since of it. Think of it like an insufficient electrical circuit in your house: No total circuit, no lights.

Jupiter, nevertheless, has a polar cap in which the aurora impresses. That puzzled researchers.

The issue, Delamere stated, is that scientists were so Earth-centric in their thinking of Jupiter since of what they had actually learnt more about Earth’s own electromagnetic fields.

The arrival at Jupiter of NASA’s Juno spacecraft in July 2016 supplied pictures of the polar cap and aurora. But those images, together with some caught by the Hubble Space Telescope, could not deal with the argument amongst researchers about open lines versus closed lines.

So Delamere and the rest of the research group utilized computer system modeling for aid. Their research exposed a mainly closed polar area with a little crescent-shaped location of open flux, representing just about 9 percent of the polar cap area. The rest was active with aurora, representing closed electromagnetic field lines.

Jupiter, it ends up, has a mix of open and closed lines in its polar caps.

“There was no model or no understanding to explain how you could have a crescent of open flux like this simulation is producing,” he stated. “It just never even entered my mind. I don’t think anybody in the community could have imagined this solution. Yet this simulation has produced it.”

“To me, this is a major paradigm shift for the way that we understand magnetospheres.”

What else does this expose? More work for scientists.

“It raises many questions about how the solar wind interacts with Jupiter’s magnetosphere and influences the dynamics,” Delamere stated.

Jupiter’s aurorally active polar cap could, for instance, be due to the rapidity of the world’s rotation — as soon as every 10 hours compared to Earth’s as soon as every 24 hours — and the enormity of its magnetosphere. Both minimize the effect of the solar wind, indicating the polar cap electromagnetic field lines are less most likely to be torn apart to end up being open lines.

And to what degree does Jupiter’s moon Io impact the magnetic lines within Jupiter’s polar cap? Io is electrodynamically connected to Jupiter, something special in our planetary system, and as such is continuously removed of heavy ions by its moms and dad world.

As the paper keeps in mind, “The jury is still out on the magnetic structure of Jupiter’s magnetosphere and what exactly its aurora is telling us about its topology.”


Peter Delamere,
University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute,
[email protected]

The paper will be readily available online at

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