X-rays exploded at the poles of Jupiter, a mystery solved

The phenomenon analyzed by the researchers is caused by the collision of charged particles traveling along Jupiter’s magnetic field and atmosphere (Credit: University College London, ESA/NASA/YAO/DEN)

The mystery of the X-ray bursts that occur every few minutes, almost regularly, in the aurora borealis at the north and south poles of Jupiter has not been resolved for several decades. Now, a new study likely has fixed the problem.

Powerful explosions of X-rays at the poles of Jupiter.

What we know about this phenomenon is that it is caused by the X-rays found in the planet’s aurora borealis. When charged particles come into contact with Jupiter’s atmosphere, bursts of light in both visible and invisible wavelengths are produced, a phenomenon that also occurs on Earth.
The difference is that these explosions on Jupiter are enormous, and even more powerful in that they produce an enormous amount of energy, which can be measured in hundreds of gigawatts. The fact that a planet can produce such violent explosions of X-rays has aroused the interest of astronomers and scientists, because such strong X-ray emissions are usually produced by more powerful and unstable cosmic bodies, such as black holes and neutron stars.

Ionized gas collides with the planet’s atmosphere.

According to researchers at University College London and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who published their study in Science Advances, X-ray flares are produced by periodic vibrations of the lines that make up the planet’s magnetic field. These are powerful vibrations that in turn produce waves of ionized gas in the form of plasma that cause heavy ions to travel along the same magnetic field lines until they collide with the atmosphere. The “breakdown” produces the energy needed, along the X-ray wavelength, for the explosions we observe.
This is a strange phenomenon because it is one of the few cases that allowed us to closely detect an X-ray source by sending probes, which, for example, would not be possible (at least for the time being) with black holes and neutron stars.

Diagram explaining the phenomenon that produces X-ray ‘bursts’ at Jupiter’s poles

It also uses data from the XMM-Newton space observatory.

To reach these conclusions, the researchers used data from NASA’s Juno orbiter, which has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016, and data, mostly from X-ray measurements, from the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space observatory (which orbits Jupiter). . planet).
According to William Dunn, a researcher at UCLA’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory, this massive production of X-rays from Jupiter’s aurora borealis has been a mystery for more than forty years.

This phenomenon probably does not only occur on Jupiter.

While it is already known that X-ray aurora is caused by ions colliding with the atmosphere, what we didn’t know is that these ions appear to be carried by plasma waves. This is a process similar to what happens on Earth, which indicates that it is probably a more common phenomenon than we think, and may be found on many other planets. According to Zhonghua Yao, a researcher at the Chinese Academy and another author of the study, it is likely that the same phenomenon will also occur on Saturn, Neptune, Uranus and most likely near the poles of planets outside our solar system. This phenomenon can also occur with different types of charged particles moving in plasma waves.

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