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Jupiter's auroras are powerful —and very different from Earth's

Jupiter's southern aurora, captured in February by NASA 's Juno. (Credit: G. Randy Gladstone, SWRI)

Jupiter is home to the solar system's most powerful auroras. Their source is a mystery but researchers reported this week that they now know the planet's auroras are generated by processes different from those on Earth.

How it works on Earth: Auroras are created when the solar wind blows over the planet's magnetic fields and drives electrons into oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere. Those electrons then emit photons that the luckiest of us get to see as the vibrant colors of the Northern and Southern Lights.

How it works on Jupiter: It's different. The rotation of the planet in its own magnetic field, not the solar wind, can generate 400,000 volts of charge as it pushes electrons toward the atmosphere. But unlike on Earth, that doesn't create Jupiter's brightest auroras.