A University College London and Chinese Academy of Sciences led research team may have unlocked the mystery of Jupiter’s minute by minute production of spectacular burst of X-ray, putting an end to a 40-year question. It is believed that Jupiter’s X-ray aurora alone releases about a gigawatt, the same as to what one power station will produce in days
The X-rays, famed for being part of Jupiter’s aurora had in conglomeration visible and invisible light bursts that comes into the fore when charged particles aligns with the planet’s atmosphere. Although something similar happens on Earth, with the production of the northern lights, that of Jupiter appears to have traction as its more powerful, as it radiates hundreds of gigawattsenergy that is said to be enough to briefly power all human civilization.
That is how powerful the Jupiter production phenomenon is!
In the new UCL researchers study, close-up observations of Jupiter’s environment by Juno, a NASA satellite, currently orbiting the Jupiter planet was combined with X-ray measurements of XMM-Newton Observatory of the European Space agency that is orbiting the earth.
It was discovered that periodic vibrations of Jupiter’s magnetic field lines triggered the X-ray flares, creating waves of ionized gas which made heavy ion particles surf on magnetic field lines till the moment they land into the atmosphere of the planet and in the process release X-ray formed energy.
Dr. William Dunn, of the University College London Mullard Space Science Laboratory, who doubles as the Co-Lead author of the research gave an insight into the project when he said;
“We have seen Jupiter producing X-ray aurora for four decades, but we didn’t know how this happened. We only knew they were produced when ions crashed into the planet’s atmosphere.
“Now we know these ions are transported by plasma waves — an explanation that has not been proposed before, even though a similar process produces Earth’s own aurora. It could, therefore, be a universal phenomenon, present across many different environments in space.”
The polar lights off the X-ray takes place at the North and South Poles, in most cases with the regularity of a clock-work and in this period, Jupiter was seen to produce every 27 minutes burst of X-rays.
The research team further noted that the obviously charged ion particles that enveloped the atmosphere came from volcanoes from Io, Jupiter’s moon.
The corresponding gas gets ionized as a result of collisions in the Jupiter immediate surroundings, this form a donut of plasma that covers the planet.
Dr. Zhonghua Yao of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing), a Co-lead author talked of inherent possibilities when he said:
“Now we have identified this fundamental process, there is a wealth of possibilities for where it could be studied next. Similar processes likely occur around Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and probably exoplanets as well, with different kinds of charged particles ‘surfing’ the waves.”
Co-author Professor Graziella Branduardi-Raymont (UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory) said:
“X-rays are typically produced by extremely powerful and violent phenomena such as black holes and neutron stars, so it seems strange that mere planets produce them too.
“We can never visit black holes, as they are beyond space travel, but Jupiter is on our doorstep. With the arrival of the satellite Juno into Jupiter’s orbit, astronomers now have a fantastic opportunity to study an environment that produces X-rays up close.
Observations of Jupiter and its immediate environment were analyzed by the researchers for a 26-hour period, using the Juno and XMM-Newton satellites.
A correlation was thus found between plasma waves discovered in Juno and X-ray polar light flares at the Jupiter North Pole, which was recorded by XMM-Newton. Computer Modeling was used to determine if the waves would drive out heavy particles from Jupiter’s atmosphere.
Reference: 9 July 2021, Science Advances.