The Hubble Space Telescope is capturing amazing photographs of Jupiter’s auroras, which look like sparkly swirls at the planet’s poles.
The vivid glows are created when charged particles enter the gas giant’s atmosphere near its magnetic poles; the collision with atoms and molecules in the atmosphere produce the light. While on Earth the biggest auroras are caused by solar storms — when high energy particles ejected from the Sun rain down on our planet — auroras on Jupiter are also caused by the charged particles ejected by other sources, like the planet’s orbiting moon Io. The auroras also never cease and are huge, covering areas bigger than the Earth itself.
"These auroras are very dramatic and among the most active I have ever seen", Jonathan Nichols from the University of Leicester said in a statement. "It almost seems as if Jupiter is throwing a firework party for the imminent arrival of Juno."
Juno is the NASA spacecraft that’s scheduled to enter Jupiter’s orbit on July 4th after five years of traveling; it’ll be the closest encounter ever with the Solar System’s largest planet. Hubble and Juno are working together to study Jupiter’s auroras. Hubble is observing the planet daily for a month, to see how the auroras change and how they respond to different conditions in the solar wind. Juno, instead, is studying the properties of the solar wind itself. The final goal is to understand how the Sun and other sources influence auroras.
This is not the first time that Hubble is snapping photos of the planet’s glows. In 2000, the telescope worked together with the Cassini spacecraft to take images and gather data. In 2007, it cooperated with NASA’s New Horizons, which was on its way to Pluto.