The science and beauty of planetary auroras


Auroras are one of nature’s most beautiful displays of light, the most well known being Earth’s aurora borealis, or “Northern Lights” (a title coined by Galileo Galilei). These lights illuminate the night sky (they can also occur during the day, albeit invisibly) when charged particles released by the sun collide with a planet’s magnetic field, creating alternating wavelenths of red, blue, violet, and green. The following video taken by a crew on board the International Space Station shows earth’s aurora australis (or the southern lights):

Although earth’s auroras have been well documented and photographed, scientists have only recently begun to study and capture those existing on other planets. Thanks to the Hubble Space telescope and the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, we have  a growing collection of auroras as they exist on Saturn, and Jupiter.

1. The auroras of Saturn

Unlike earth’s auroras that can only endure for a few hours, Saturn’s auroras can dance and dazzle for days on end. Saturn’s auroras are also extremely tall, stretching hundreds of miles above its pole.



Here’s a NASA video compilation of Saturn’s auroras in action:


2. Jupiter’s auroras

The auroras on Jupiter occur less frequently, and are not caused by the Sun’s charged particles entering the planet’s atmosphere. Instead, the auroras on Jupiter are caused by the “gas giant’s own magnetic properties interacting with its upper atmosphere and exciting the gases that exist there, causing them to glow.



The Hubble Space telescope took this ultraviolet video of Jupiter’s aurora:

“Aurora” is the name of the Roman goddess of dawn.

About Author

Kristian strives to enlighten and entertain readers. In addition to his teaching and editorial responsibilities, he is working on a science-fiction novel that promises not to include exoskeleton suits and anemic aliens floating in mysterious vats of green-tinted goop.

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