This natural light show, which we call the polar lights on our planet, comes from its volcanic moon Io.

Decades upon decades of research have uncovered how somewhat supernatural sights happen here on Earth. One that is still awe-inspiring? The polar lights, sometimes referred to as auroral substorms on our planet, too. And now a new study published in AGU Advances by University of Liège researchers found that one of our neighboring planets has a similar light show. The team spotted Jupiter's dawn storm, which featured bright and broad lights in its aurora.

composite image of jupiter from nasa juno mission
Credit: Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

After tracking the storms on the night side of Jupiter for their study, they saw that its auroral arc turned into a bright auroral display. The ultraviolet lights on this planet are actually huge. The team discovered everywhere from hundreds to thousands of Gigawatts (produced by a modern nuclear reactor) pushed into space when Jupiter rotates from its night to dawn side. This takes place over a five- to 10-hour time period. The result? This brightness creates about 10 times more energy in the upper atmosphere of the planet.

"This is a real game changer," said Bertrand Bonfond, a researcher from the University of Liège and lead study author. "We finally got to find out what was happening on the night side, where the dawn storms are born." While both Jupiter and Earth produce light shows because they create magnetic fields that contain charged particles, our planet's magnetosphere stems from charged particles that flow from the sun (dubbed the solar wind). Jupiter's magnetosphere, on the other hand, gets its particles from its volcanic moon Io. They are then ionized and caught around the planet.

The team notes that these findings connect the two planets like never before. "When we looked at the whole dawn storm sequence, we couldn't help but notice that the dawn storm auroras at Jupiter are very similar to a type of terrestrial auroras called substorms," said Zhonghua Yao, the co-author of the study and scientific collaborator at the University of Liège. With their new research, they are now able to dig even more into the topic and help their understanding of planets in the galaxy. "Even if their engine is different, showing for the first time the link between these two very different systems allows us to identify the universal phenomena from the peculiarities specific to each planet," Bonfond said.


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