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Jupiters vivid auroras captured by Hubble

Astronomers are using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to study auroras — stunning light shows in a planet’s atmosphere — on the poles of the largest planet in the Solar System, Jupiter. This observation programme is supported by measurements made by NASA’s Juno spacecraft, currently on its way to Jupiter.

Jupiter, the largest planet in the Solar System, is best known for its colourful storms, the most famous being the Great Red Spot. Now astronomers have focused on another beautiful feature of the planet, using the ultraviolet capabilities of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

The extraordinary vivid glows shown in the new observations are known as auroras. They are created when high energy particles enter a planet’s atmosphere near its magnetic poles and collide with atoms of gas. As well as producing beautiful images, this programme aims to determine how various components of Jupiter’s auroras respond to different conditions in the solar wind, a stream of charged particles ejected from the Sun.

This observation programme is perfectly timed as NASA’s Juno spacecraft is currently in the solar wind near Jupiter and will enter the orbit of the planet in early July 2016. While Hubble is observing and measuring the auroras on Jupiter, Juno is measuring the properties of the solar wind itself; a perfect collaboration between a telescope and a space probe.

“These auroras are very dramatic and among the most active I have ever seen”, says Jonathan Nichols from the Department of Physics and Astronomy and principal investigator of the study. “It almost seems as if Jupiter is throwing a firework party for the imminent arrival of Juno.”

Watch coverage of this story on BBC East Midlands Today:

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