Jupiter: Chandra, ROSAT composite
Credit: NASA/SWRI/G.R.Gladstone et al. (Chandra); SWRI/H.Waite, R.Gladstone (ROSAT)

Jupiter Then and Now

The gas giant Jupiter has a very strong magnetic field, produced by the "dynamo effect" which is also responsible for the magnetic field of earth. The magnetic field captures high energy particles, and as the particles slow in the magnetic field they radiate in X-rays. The image on the right is an image obtained by the ROSAT satellite at a particularly catastrophic time in the recent history of Jupiter, namely the collision of the comet Shoemaker-Levy with the planet. The ROSAT image shows enhanced X-ray emission near Jupiter's north and south poles, though ROSAT could not provide any fine detail regarding the distribution of the emission. The image on the left shows a recent X-ray image of Jupiter obtained by the Chandra X-ray Observatory during a more peaceful time. Chandra's exquisite X-ray mirrors and detectors are able to show detail of the emission near the poles, and to detect emission across the disk of Jupiter as well. The Chandra image provides some puzzles for astronomers - the location of the X-ray emission near the poles is a bit of a surprise, and probably indicates that most of the X-rays at the time of the Chandra observation come from the capture of particles from the solar wind. At the time of the ROSAT observation most of the ions presumably were produced in the cometary collision.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified March 4, 2002