Top Ten Space Pictures of 2007

Top Ten Space Photos of 2007
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9. Jupiter Auroras "Northern Lights on Steroids"
(originally posted March 30, 2007)

No, Jupiter hasn't acquired a new toupee and goatee to impress Venus.

Those dashing purple puffs are x-ray images of the gas giant's high-voltage auroras"northern lights on steroids," said planetary scientist Randy Gladstone of an image released by NASA in March.

The colorized pictureone of the most popular space photos featured in National Geographic Newsis something of a collage. Several x-ray images from NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory were combined and superimposed on the latest Hubble Space Telescope image of Jupiter.

"Jupiter has auroras bigger than our entire planet," said Gladstone, of the independent nonprofit Southwest Research Institute in Texas, in a statement.

Gladstone hopes these latest observations will help him crack some Jovian mysteries. For starters, what causes these "hyper-auroras"?

The solar system's biggest planet and its magnetic field rotate extremely quicklyevery ten hoursgenerating ten million volts around its poles. Toss in charged particles from the volcanic moon Io and you've got a crackling, nonstop sky show.

But how do the volcanic particles get from a relatively small moon to Jupiter's planetary poles? That, Gladstone said, remains one of the planet's unsolved puzzles.

(Watch a brief animation of Io's particles interacting with Jupiter's magnetic field to create auroras.)

Ted Chamberlain

(Top space pictures determined by number of times viewed.)

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—Image courtesy NASA
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