Over the last couple years, NASA has had a few emotional hits and a few selfie-inducing misses. But what they do best, and what we can perpetually depend on them to do, is blow some minds with their extra-terrestrial imagery. Recently, they upped the bar when images of Jupiter’s auroras came back from the Hubble telescope.
The blue and green shapes you can see in these photos are created when charged particles enter the gas giant’s atmosphere near its magnetic poles. The collision with atoms and molecules in the atmosphere produce the light. While on Earth, auroras are caused on occasion and vary in their severity, the auroras on Jupiter apparently never end and can be massive, covering areas bigger than Earth itself.
“These auroras are very dramatic and among the most active I have ever seen,” Jonathan Nichols from the University of Leicester said in a statement. “It almost seems as if Jupiter is throwing a firework party for the imminent arrival of Juno.”
Juno is a NASA spacecraft, currently traveling at 68,000 miles per hour, that’s scheduled to enter Jupiter’s orbit on July 4 after five years of commuting there. It’ll be our closest encounter with the Solar System’s largest planet.
Hubble and Juno are working together to study Jupiter’s auroras. Hubble is observing the planet daily for a month, to see how the auroras change and how they respond to different conditions in the solar wind. Juno is studying the properties of the solar wind itself. The final goal is to understand how the Sun and other sources influence auroras.
You can learn more about Juno and its mission in this video from the fine folks at NASA: