Written by Miles Hatfield
Greenbelt, MD – From the ground, the dance of the northern lights, or aurora borealis, can look peaceful. But those shimmering sheets of colored lights are the product of violent collisions between Earth’s atmosphere and particles from the Sun.
The beautiful lights are just the visible product of these collisions — the kinetic and thermal energy released, invisible to the naked eye, are no less important. Understanding the contribution that aurora make to the total amount of energy that enters and leaves Earth’s geospace system — referred to as auroral forcing — is one of the major goals of the NASA-funded Auroral Zone Upwelling Rocket Experiment, or AZURE.
Written by Mara Johnson-Groh
Greenbelt, MD – Sometimes on a dark night near the poles, the sky pulses a diffuse glow of green, purple and red. Unlike the long, shimmering veils of typical auroral displays, these pulsating auroras are much dimmer and less common.
While scientists have long known auroras to be associated with solar activity, the precise mechanism of pulsating auroras was unknown. Now, new research, using data from NASA’s Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms — or THEMIS — mission and Japan’s Exploration of energization and Radiation in Geospace — shortened to ERG, or also known as Arase — satellite, has finally captured the missing link thought responsible for these auroras.
Written by DC Agle
Pasadena, CA – Scientists on NASA’s Juno mission have observed massive amounts of energy swirling over Jupiter’s polar regions that contribute to the giant planet’s powerful auroras – only not in ways the researchers expected.
Examining data collected by the ultraviolet spectrograph and energetic-particle detector instruments aboard the Jupiter-orbiting Juno spacecraft, a team led by Barry Mauk of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, observed signatures of powerful electric potentials, aligned with Jupiter’s magnetic field, that accelerate electrons toward the Jovian atmosphere at energies up to 400,000 electron volts.
Written by DC Agle
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s Juno mission accomplished a close flyby of Jupiter on Monday, March 27th, successfully completing its fourth science orbit.
All of Juno’s science instruments and the spacecraft’s JunoCam were operating during the flyby, collecting data that is now being returned to Earth. Juno’s next close flyby of Jupiter will occur on May 19th, 2017.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft made its fifth flyby over Jupiter’s mysterious cloud tops on Monday, March 27th, at 1:52am PDT (4:52am EDT, 8:52 UTC).
Written by Keith Koehler
Wallops Island, VA – Three NASA rockets carrying instruments into active auroras over Alaska to aid scientists studying the northern lights and the interactions of the solar wind with Earth’s upper atmosphere and ionosphere were launched within a nearly two-hour period March 2nd, 2017.
The instruments were successfully carried on Black IX sounding rockets from the Poker Flat Research Range north of Fairbanks. The first two rockets were launched nearly simultaneously at 12:41am and 12:42:30am EST as part of the Neutral Jets in Auroral Arcs mission.
Written by Sarah Frazier
Greenbelt, MD – Thanks to a lucky conjunction of two satellites, a ground-based array of all-sky cameras, and some spectacular aurora borealis, researchers have uncovered evidence for an unexpected role that electrons have in creating the dancing auroras. Though humans have been seeing auroras for thousands of years, we have only recently begun to understand what causes them.
In this study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, scientists compared ground-based videos of pulsating auroras—a certain type of aurora that appears as patches of brightness regularly flickering on and off—with satellite measurements of the numbers and energies of electrons raining down towards the surface from inside Earth’s magnetic bubble, the magnetosphere.
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – Mysterious objects called brown dwarfs are sometimes called “failed stars.” They are too small to fuse hydrogen in their cores, the way most stars do, but also too large to be classified as planets.
But a new study in the journal Nature suggests they succeed in creating powerful auroral displays, similar to the kind seen around the magnetic poles on Earth.
“This is a whole new manifestation of magnetic activity for that kind of object,” said Leon Harding, a technologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and co-author on the study.
Written by Tony Phillips
Washington, D.C. – One day, when humans go to Mars, they might find that, occasionally, the Red Planet has green skies.
In late December 2014, NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft detected evidence of widespread auroras in Mars’s northern hemisphere. The “Christmas Lights,” as researchers called them, circled the globe and descended so close to the Martian equator that, if the lights had occurred on Earth, they would have been over places like Florida and Texas.
“It really is amazing,” says Nick Schneider who leads MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument team at the University of Colorado. “Auroras on Mars appear to be more wide ranging than we ever imagined.”
Written by Dr. Tony Phillips
Washington, D.C. – Magnetic reconnection could be the Universe’s favorite way to make things explode.
It operates anywhere magnetic fields pervade space–which is to say almost everywhere. In the cores of galaxies, magnetic reconnection sparks explosions visible billions of light-years away. On the sun, it causes solar flares as powerful as a million atomic bombs. At Earth, it powers magnetic storms and auroras. It’s ubiquitous.
The problem is, researchers can’t explain it.
Written by Jia-Rui Cook
Pasadena, CA – NASA trained several pairs of eyes on Saturn as the planet put on a dancing light show at its poles.
While NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, orbiting around Earth, was able to observe the northern auroras in ultraviolet wavelengths, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, orbiting around Saturn, got complementary close-up views in infrared, visible-light and ultraviolet wavelengths. Cassini could also see northern and southern parts of Saturn that don’t face Earth.
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