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Jupiter 'puts on firework party'

Press AssociationPress Association 30/06/2016
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Jupiter, the king of planets, appears to be wearing a crown of blazing light in a stunning new image from the Hubble Space Telescope.

The photo shows a vivid aurora, similar to the Northern Lights on Earth, over one of the gas giant's poles.

Auroras occur when high energy sub-atomic particles flying through space are captured by a planet's magnetic field and steered north or south.

Collisions between the particles and molecules in the atmosphere give rise to the spectacular light display.

Jupiter, the largest planet in the Solar System, has an exceptionally powerful magnetic field and its auroras are hundreds of times more energetic than those on Earth.

Auroras created by high-energy particles are seen on a pole of the planet Jupiter in a NASA composite of two separate images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. © NASA/ESA/Handout via Reuters Auroras created by high-energy particles are seen on a pole of the planet Jupiter in a NASA composite of two separate images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The picture was released days before an American spacecraft, Juno, is due to reach Jupiter, early on July 5, UK time.

The probe will orbit closer to the planet than any previous spacecraft, flying to within 4700km of its swirling cloud tops.

It carries special shielding to protect its sensitive electronics from the circuit-frying radiation storm generated by Jupiter's magnetic field.

Currently Juno is ploughing through the solar wind - the stream of high energy particles flowing out from the sun - close to Jupiter.

"These auroras are very dramatic and among the most active I have ever seen," British astronomer Dr Jonathan Nichols, from the University of Leicester, who heads the Hubble team investigating Jupiter's light displays, said.

"It almost seems as if Jupiter is throwing a firework party for the imminent arrival of Juno."

To highlight changes in the auroras, which cover areas bigger than the Earth, Hubble is observing Jupiter daily for around a month.

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