Giant light-shows dance over Jupiter

Jupiter enjoys celestial light-shows so spectacular that they’ve been dubbed “Northern Lights on steroids” by astronomers. The dramatic magnetic storms – called the aurora – are so vast that they would dwarf the Earth.

They are revealed dancing around the poles of Jupiter, the biggest planet in the solar system, by an X-ray telescope in space called Chandra.

Its image of purple aurorae superimposed on a Hubble photograph of Jupiter makes the planet look as if it has a Zebedee-style haircut.

Previous spaceprobes had spotted that Jupiter gets displays of the aurora. But Chandra reveals that they are bigger and more spectacular than anyone had imagined.

Randy Gladstone, of the Southwest Research Institute, Texas, said: “Jupiter has auroras bigger than our entire planet. They are like the Northern Lights on steroids. They’re hundreds of times more energetic than auroras on Earth.”

Gladstone says that, unlike Earth’s auroral storms, Jupiter’s light shows never stop.
He says this is because they are generated by the giant planet itself whereas Earth’s auroras are caused by particles from the sun buffeting our magnetic field. Five spceprobes were launched in February to investigate our own aurorae.

Jupiter has been put under extra-close scrutiny lately to coincide with Nasa’s New Horizon spaceprobe making a close flyby on its way to distant Pluto.

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