Jupiter boasts some of the most spectacular auroras in the solar system—vast, super-energetic fields of light that are permanently on display and bigger than planet Earth.
Lately, scientists say, the Jovian lights have been even more magnificent than usual. Researchers are matching up ultraviolet imagery taken by the Hubble telescope with data from spacecraft Juno, which is set to enter Jupiter’s orbit next week. Their goal is to better understand how the solar wind affects the planet’s auroras.
“These auroras are very dramatic and among the most active I have ever seen,” said Jonathan Nichols, an astronomist at the University of Leicester, in a statement on Thursday. “It almost seems as if Jupiter is throwing a firework party for the imminent arrival of Juno.”
The latest images build on an earlier collection of photos taken since Jupiter’s auroras were first discovered in 1979. “Some months ago, we thought we had some idea of what planets were like,” the planetary scientist Laurence Soderblom told newspapers at the time, “and we discovered how narrow our vision really was.”
Scientists already know that Jupiter’s auroras are caused by more than just solar storms. The planet’s gigantic magnetosphere also brightens the otherworldly lights with a constant stream of mega-intense charged particles. And all this is happening on a huge scale. Think of it this way: If Jupiter’s enormous magnetic field were visible to the eye, scientists say, it would appear from Earth to be the same size as the sun—even though it is five times farther away.