How auroras on Earth, Saturn and Jupiter could help forecast risky space weather | Space

New research suggests that understanding factors common to celestial light shows over Earth, Saturn and Jupiter can help predict risky space weather.

The stunning Northern Lights and Southern Lights are examples of auroras over Earth that are very familiar to skywatchers. Earlier in May, Earth experienced the most powerful aurora event in 21 years, reminding us of the stunning beauty of these phenomena.

Auroras are generated over the poles of our planet when charged particles that make up the sun’s solar wind strike Earth’s protective magnetic field known as the magnetosphere. These particles travel down magnetic field lines, interacting with atoms in our atmosphere and causing them to emit light. The bombardment of charged particles from the sun doesn’t just generate beautiful light shows over Earth, though. It can also result in “space weather,” like geomagnetic storms that sometimes threaten satellites, communications systems and even power infrastructure on Earth.

Our planet is not the only solar system world that experiences auroras at its poles. These incredible light shows also occur over gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, as well as frigid ice giant Uranus. In fact, auroras should be possible around any planet with an atmosphere and magnetic field — and, as astronomers discovered in 2018, auroras can also be seen over extra-solar planets, or “exoplanets.”



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