Over a quarter century has passed since it’s launch, but NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is still taking incredible images that help scientists and astronomers study the universe. The space telescope, launched into the Earth’s orbit in 1990, recently delivered one of it’s most impressive captures; a massive Aurora on the north pole of the planet Jupiter.
Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system, and to me, it is also the most interesting. While planets like Earth and Mars are rocky, substance based balls of mass, Jupiter is a gas giant with almost unbelievable surface features. The one that is perhaps best known is the ‘Great Red Spot’, an anticyclone weather phenomenon that is bigger than Earth itself. Even more mind-boggling is the fact that this storm has been raging for centuries, possibly since 1665.
But even for a planet known for its centuries-old storms and ice moons, the auroras are a new look at why Jupiter is maybe the most interesting planet in the universe.
NASA describes how the vivid light show is created.
Auroras 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 program 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.
The timing of the Aurora photo lines up perfectly for NASA to bring attention to one of it’s boldest projects yet, the Juno spacecraft. Almost five years after its launch, on July 4th, (talk about timing), Juno will enter into Jupiter’s orbit. While spacecraft have been visiting the planet since the 1970s, usually they are fly by reconnaissance missions while traveling to another planet. Juno is the first spacecraft devoted to studying Jupiter only, flying 5,000 kilometers closer than any other spacecraft has before. Juno is expected to study the planet from its orbit until 2018, when it will purposely plummet into Jupiter’s atmosphere and go out in a blaze of glory.
Keep up to date with the newest findings from Juno and the latest photos from Hubble on the NASA website. The next couple of years should be very interesting. As Jonathan Nichols from the University of Leicester, U.K. said of the vibrant auroras timing with the arrival of Juno;
It almost seems as if Jupiter is throwing a firework party for the imminent arrival of Juno.
This full-disc image of Jupiter was taken on 21 April 2014 with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). Credits: NASA, ESA, and J. Nichols (University of Leicester)