Mysterious rings in Jupiter’s aurora might finally have an explanation
The Avengers fought a fictional battle in space, but there’s actually something out there that at least looks like the power source of the Stark Tower and Iron Man suit. Could it be a cosmic arc reactor?
Jupiter’s aurors seem almost supernatural when they glow in the darkness of the void. NASA’s Juno spacecraft revealed something in these already surreal light shows that would make the arc reactor look even cooler – glowing, rapidly expanding rings. Scientists at the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) are now approaching the search for the causes of this mysterious phenomenon. When supersonic solar particles reach Jupiter and hit its magnetosphere, they are believed to cause strange emissions when reacting with plasma.
But wait. How can that happen when a planet has a magnetic field 20,000 times stronger than that of Earth? That is, so immense that particles of the solar wind will be deflected if they run 2 to 4 million miles into it before they ever reach the gas monster.
“When they reach Jupiter, [the solar particles] interact with its magnetosphere in ways that are not yet well understood, ”said researcher Vincent Hue, who led a study recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, in a press release.
Even from this point, solar particles can still have interactions at their edge or in the magnetopause and show themselves as these eerily glowing rings in their aurors. Observations by Juno and Hubble have shown that processes deep inside the planet shift these charged particles in magnetopause. These processes are the greatest source of energy for these arc reactor rings (as opposed to Tony’s arc reactor as a power source on its own). These forces are behind Jupiter’s rotation, which controls how charged solar particles move in the magnetosphere.
A Jupiter day only lasts 10 hours, as Jupiter rotates around its axis more than twice as fast as the earth and faster than any other planet in the solar system. (Imagine having less than half the time it normally takes to get everything done before you crash for good.)
Aurors and their secrets are one of the reasons the Juno Mission, whose SWRI-led UVS instrument was able to detect weak aurors on these rings, has been expanded. UVS is the ultraviolet instrument on board Juno that detects UV emissions and longer wavelengths of light from Jupiter’s aurors. It was able to see what Jupiter aurors look like and how bright they are, and measure how energetic auroral particles are and how they flow.
The SWRI research team suspects that the rings are likely to arise when solar plasma interacts with Jupiter plasma and triggers so-called Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities. This happens at the interface between the solar wind and Jupiter’s magnetosphere, with pressure causing turbulence as the particles on each side move at different speeds. They also think that at least on the Jupiter’s Day side, it is possible that the convergence of its magnetic field and the magnetic fields of other planets might have something to do with it.
“Scientists still do not fully understand the role of the solar wind in mitigating Jupiter’s auroral emissions,” said researcher Thomas Greathouse, who co-authored the study, in the same press release. “The role of the solar wind is still being debated.”
Juno will continue to investigate what superpowers make the Aurors of Jupiter appear as the next generation Stark technology. It will fall back on previous observations that include what the innards of Jupiter, particularly its internal magnetic field, really are. Here you can keep an eye on the mission.
Perhaps Jupiter should be known as the Iron Man planet from now on.
Video of Iron Man sketched by Marvel Visual Dev Head Ryan Meinerding (Künstlergasse) | SYFY WIRE