How alien auroras reveal planetary information

Beyond their spectacular light shows, auroras can tell us a huge amount of information about a planet.

Spurred on by the success of studying the auroras of Jupiter and Saturn, University researchers are asking what we could learn from auroras on much more distant planets orbiting other stars.

The idea is explored in a chapter of the book The Wonders of Space, the latest issue of New Scientist: The Collection, published last week. The chapter was selected as one of the 'greatest hits' on the New Scientist website, originally published as a feature article in 2013. It was written by climate scientist Sophie Hebden at the University of Leicester. 

"I'm delighted the article has generated a lot of interest, I enjoyed learning about the exciting research possibilities if we could detect these 'alien auroras'. The search is still in its early days, but as telescope sensitivity improves, the likelihood goes up."

Sophie did her PhD at the University of Leicester in the Radio and Space Plasma Physics group and worked for ten years in the media before returning to the University of Leicester to work as a science writer and climate scientist for the National Centre for Earth Observation.

The Wonders of Space is dedicated to our growing understanding of space, both from exploration and observation.

It is available in print and as an e-book from here.