It’s Getting Hot on Jupiter

Observations with the Subaru Telescope, a Japanese 8-m telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, show that the aurorae at Jupiter’s poles are heating the atmosphere of the gas giant, and that it is a rapid response to the solar wind.

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Aurorae at Earth’s poles occur when the energetic particles blown out from the Sun, the solar wind, interact with and heat up the gases in the upper atmosphere.

The same thing happens at Jupiter, but the new observations show the heating goes 2-3 times deeper down into its atmosphere than on Earth, into the lower level of Jupiter’s stratosphere (upper atmosphere).

Understanding how the Sun’s outpouring of solar wind interacts with planetary environments is key to better understanding the nature of how planets and their atmospheres evolve.

What is startling about the results is that scientists were able to associate the variations in the solar wind and the response in Jupiter’s stratosphere, and that the response to these variations is so quick for such a large area.

Within a day of the solar wind hitting Jupiter, the chemistry in its atmosphere changed and its temperature rose, the astronomers found.

Such heating and chemical reactions may tell us something about other planets with harsh environments, and even early Earth.

The results appear in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Dark Side of the Sun

Whelp, the sun has a giant hole in it.

A colossal dark hole was recently spotted on the sun’s surface, and it has been spewing solar wind our way. According to NASA, the high-speed wind triggered a light show of several auroras on Earth.

A photo of the “coronal hole” (below) was taken by a camera aboard the space agency’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on Oct. 10:

The hole is located on the outermost layer of the sun, called the corona (thus the name), in the sun’s northern hemisphere. It is about the size of 50 Earths and is releasing wind at up to 500 miles per second.

When solar winds reach Earth, it can disturb the magnetosphere and cause geomagnetic storms. While such storms create beautiful auroras and can also affect satellite and radio communication systems.

NASA scientists haven’t indicated whether the recently spotted hole will stick around for Halloween, but coronal holes can last for months.