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Loud Aurora

November 12, 2016

When the Juno spacecraft made its first pass above the south pole of Jupiter this summer, it took pictures of the brilliant aurora — the giant planet’s own “southern lights.” But it also listened to the lights. Its instruments detected radio waves produced by the charged particles that create the aurora. Scientists sped up those observations, and converted them to sound. [SFX: Jupiter aurora]

The aurora is produced by the interaction between Jupiter’s atmosphere and the solar wind — a steady stream of charged particles from the Sun. The particles are funneled toward the poles by Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field. They knock electrons off atoms in the upper atmosphere. When the electrons stick to other atoms, they emit light.

Some of the electrons spiral through the magnetic field, producing radio waves — the waves detected by Juno.

Earth produces its own aurorae, although you have to be in the right place to see them. From the United States, the best views generally come from Alaska and places like Maine and Minnesota.

But you can see Jupiter from just about any place on the planet. It stands low in the east-southeast at first light, and looks like a brilliant star. In fact, it’s the brightest object in the sky at that hour other than the Moon, so it’s hard to miss.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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