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Scientists Have Finally Solved The 40 Year Puzzle Surrounding Jupiters Huge X Ray Explosions

Scientists have been baffled for 40 years as to why Jupiter emits bursts of X-rays every few minutes; now, University College London researchers believe they have the explanation.

The X-rays are part of Jupiter’s aurora, which are visible flashes of light caused by charged particles colliding with the gas giant’s atmosphere, similar to how the aurora borealis, often known as the northern lights, occurs on Earth.

Jupiter’s spectacles, on the other hand, are far more powerful.

They unleash hundreds of gigawatts of energy; by comparison, a single power plant on Earth may create a single gigawatt in a few days.

Researchers used Nasa’s Juno satellite to monitor Jupiter, as well as the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton observatory to take X-ray data.

The researchers discovered that periodic oscillations of Jupiter’s magnetic field lines triggered these X-ray bursts in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

These vibrations produced waves of plasma, an ionised gas in which particles lose their electrons, which sent heavy particles along magnetic lines until they crashed with the planet’s atmosphere, causing X-rays to be released.

This happens with startling regularity at Jupiter’s north and south polls.

A new explosion is thrown out into the universe every 27 minutes, originating from the massive volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon, Io.

Because Jupiter’s magnetic field is 20,000 times greater than Earth’s, its magnetosphere, or the area influenced by that field, is enormous.

“We’ve known for four decades that Jupiter produces X-ray aurora, but we didn’t know how it happened.”

Dr William Dunn of UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory remarked, “We only knew they were formed when ions smashed into the planet’s atmosphere.”

“Now we know these ions are transported by plasma waves – an explanation that has never been proposed previously, despite the fact that Earth’s aurora is caused by a comparable process.”

“Now that this mechanism has been recognized, it is possible that it may happen on other planets such as Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune,” explains co-lead author Dr. Zhonghua Yao of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

It’s unexpected that planets can create X-rays because they’re normally produced by more powerful cosmic objects like black holes and neutron stars (the collapsing core of a supergiant star with a mass between 10 and 25 times that of the sun).

“We’ll never be able to visit black holes because they’re beyond space travel,” said Professor Graziella Branduardi-Raymont of UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

“Astronomers now have a fantastic opportunity to investigate an environment that produces X-rays up close, thanks to the entry of the satellite Juno into Jupiter’s orbit.”

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