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Jupiter's Auroras Defy The Laws Of Earthly Physics?
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Jupiter's Auroras Defy The Laws Of Earthly Physics

Quote:According to Mauk, the author of a Jupiter aurora study released today in Nature, it’s in that electron acceleration phase that Jovian auroras stop making sense. Mauk and his team are seeing monstrous electric potentials over Jupiter’s polar regions—anywhere between 10 and 30 times greater than any seen on Earth. Which they expected—everything's bigger and badder on Jupiter. Trouble is, Jupiter’s aurora isn’t 10 or even 30 times stronger than Earth’s. It’s about a hundred times stronger. And there is no Earthly explanation for that discrepancy. “Basically, the aurora is a factor of 10 brighter than it should be based on Earth-like physics,” Mauk says.

That is text book-ripping, whiteboard-flipping crazy. It means that whatever process accelerates Jupiter’s electrons up to a million electron volts is likely a total unknown. And Mauk, with the help of theorists and data from a few more orbits, is already on the trail of what that might be. “After orbit seven we saw what I would consider to be the smoking gun,” Mauk says. Mauk’s Jedi instrument saw the characteristic inverted V structure, but the electron excitement didn’t end there. As the electrical potential rose at the peak of the V, the acceleration went from coherent and linear to random—Mauk calls that a stochastic acceleration process. “Something goes unstable, and you start forming these waves," Mauk says. "Some electrons gain a lot of energy, some just a little."

What makes things get all unstable and random? Unclear. Though—stepping deep, deep into the realm of speculation—some theorists have suggested it could be electromagnetic plasma waves churned up by the turbulence of Jupiter's magnetosphere. But while the mystery of Jupiter's super-strong auroras just keeps getting murkier, the reason for studying them is perfectly clear to Mauk. "We’re trying to understand how physical processes in the universe behave," he says. And ain't that what science is all about.
"Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible Sun within us."

  -Thomas Browne
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