Jupiter emits X-rays from its poles, study reports

Researchers have discovered that the auras at Jupiter's poles pulse independently of one another.
By Jose Jefferies | Nov 03, 2017
While most planets do not produce X-rays, researchers from NASA and the European Space Agency have found that Jupiter is an exception.

The scientists found that the gas giant emits X-rays into its atmosphere, which cause eerily beautiful auroras above the planet's poles in the same way the aurora borealis shines on Earth. However, the nearby Saturn, another gas giant planet, does not.

Not only that, but each pole pulses at completely different frequencies. The auroras on the southern pole pulse consistently every 11 minutes, while the auroras on the northern pole flare up without warning or consistency. Such aprocess has never been observed on a planet before.

Auroras occur when streams of electrically charged particles collide with a planet's atmosphere. Though scientists are aware of the mechanisms behind the ones that happen on Earth, they are not sure how such flashes occur on Jupiter.

"Charged particles have to hit Jupiter's atmosphere at exceptionally fast speeds in order to generate the X-ray pulses that we've seen," said co-author Licia Ray, a researcher from Lancaster University, in a statement. "We don't yet understand what processes cause this, but these observations tell us that they act independently in the northern and southern hemispheres."

This new discovery is important because it could alter what scientists understand about space and may change the way astronomers understand how cosmic bodies produce auroras. In addition, by looking at strange processes, researchers could get a better idea of how distant exoplanets operate.

"A main aspect for me is that 'our' planets are the nearby examples of a huge population of exoplanets," study co-author Norbert Schartel, a researcher from the European Space Agency, told Newsweek. "And only here we can observe many things [that] will be important to understand the exoplanets."

The team hopes to follow up on the findings when theIcy Moons Explorer arrives at Jupiter by2029. The craft will fly around the planet and hopefully shed more light on why the mysterious auras occur.

The new researchis published in the journalNature Astronomy.


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