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How Different are Jupiter’s Ultraviolet and X-ray Aurorae?

Students from Cantell School and Affelia Wibisono

The northern and southern lights, or the aurorae, are undoubtedly marvels to behold, however, these natural light shows that our Earth displays are no match for Jupiter’s. Its aurorae dwarf our planet’s in every way and span almost every part of the electromagnetic spectrum – from infrared light to X-rays. Jupiter’s ultraviolet aurora are fundamentally produced in the same way as the Earth’s visible aurora. Electrons rain down onto the upper atmosphere and energise gas molecules which cause them to glow. The X-ray aurora at our giant neighbour is produced by electrons and ions (positively charged atoms) which emit X-rays as they enter Jupiter’s atmosphere. The electrons release high energy X-rays whereas the ions give off X-rays with lower energies.


This project aimed to find similarities and differences between Jupiter’s ultraviolet and X-ray aurorae by comparing simultaneous observations by the Hubble Space Telescope and the XMM-Newton X-ray Observatory. Do they share intervals of bright or dim emissions? Are similar behaviours seen for X-rays of different energies? Answers to questions like these could help to reveal how electrons and ions are accelerated into Jupiter’s atmosphere which could also further highlight how alike Jupiter’s and the Earth’s aurorae are.


Images show Top Left: an Image of Jupiter taken with the XMM-Newton X-ray observatory, Top Right a projection down onto the North Pole of Jupiter taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, Lower: a lightcurve showing the variation in X-ray emissions from Jupiter's Northern aurora, Southern aurora and equator from the 10th to 12th of July 2017.

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