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More Moon and Jupiter

May 29, 2011

One person's static is another's scientific treasure. This series of crackles, pops, and whooshes, for example, reveals that the planet Jupiter has a magnetic field. It also reveals something about the strength of the field and how it's affected by one of Jupiter's moons.

Layers deep in Jupiter's interior rotate at different speeds, creating a dynamo effect, like an electric generator. Electrical currents produced by this effect generate a magnetic field that forms a gigantic magnetic "bubble" around the planet. It's far stronger than any other magnetic field in the solar system except the Sun's.

As the field rotates, it sweeps up charged particles from the Sun, and from Jupiter's volcanic moon Io, which belches tons of material into space every day. These particles spiral through the magnetic field, producing radio waves.

The waves come in two forms: long waves, which sound a bit like waves washing across a beach, and short waves, which sound like a popcorn maker. They're formed in slightly different ways, but they both carry a treasure: information about the solar system's largest planet.

Look for Jupiter well to the right of the Moon at first light tomorrow. The planet looks like a brilliant star -- and with the right radio equipment, it sounds like one, too.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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