Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2000 December 19
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download 
 the highest resolution version available.

A Close-Up of Aurora on Jupiter
Credit: John T. Clarke (U. Michigan), ESA, NASA

Explanation: Jupiter has aurorae. Like Earth, the magnetic field of the gas giant funnels charged particles released from the Sun onto the poles. As these particles strike the atmosphere, electrons are temporarily knocked away from existing gas molecules. Electric force attracts these electrons back. As the electrons recombine to remake neutral molecules, auroral light is emitted. In the above recently released photograph by the Hubble Space Telescope taken in ultraviolet light, the aurorae appear as annular sheets around the pole. Unlike Earth's aurorae, Jupiter's aurorae include several bright streaks and dots. These marks are caused by magnetic flux tubes connecting Jupiter to its largest moons. Specifically, Io caused the bright streak on the far left, Ganymede caused the bright dot below center, and Europa caused the dot to its right.

Tomorrow's picture: Watch Stars Move

< | Archive | Index | Search | Calendar | Glossary | Education | About APOD | >

Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.