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Hubble's image of Jupiter's aurora
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NASA

Hubble's auroral images of Jupiter
News story originally written on October 17, 1996

Scientists studying Jupiter's auroral regions are using images from Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 to map the planet's immense magnetic field and better understand the auroral phenomena.

Aurorae occur when charged particles (electrons, protons, and positive ions) are trapped in the magnetic field surrounding a planet. These charged particles are then accelerated along the magnetic field line towards the north and south poles. Along their path they collide with neutral particles in the planet's upper atmosphere. These collisions transfer energy, thus exciting the neutrals, which in turn release this extra energy in the form of light.

The new images show warped oval rings of aurora at the north and south poles. Also visible is an auroral footprint created by the sheet of electric current flowing between Jupiter and its volcanic moon Io. Detailed images like this are allowing scientists to watch small-scale, rapid changes in the auroral intensity and motion, and map changes in both magnetic poles and pinpoint the effects of emissions from Jupiter's moon Io.


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