An auroral flare at Jupiter

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Jupiter's aurora is the most powerful in the Solar System1. It is powered largely by energy extracted from planetary rotation2, although there seems also to be a contribution from the solar wind3,4. This contrasts with Earth's aurora, which is generated through the interaction of the solar wind with the magnetosphere. The major features of Jupiter's aurora (based on far-ultraviolet5,6,7, near-infrared8,9 and visible-wavelength10 observations) include a main oval that generally corotates with the planet and a region of patchy, diffuse emission inside the oval on Jupiter's dusk side. Here we report the discovery of a rapidly evolving, very bright and localized emission poleward of the northern main oval, in a region connected magnetically to Jupiter's outer magnetosphere. The intensity of the emission increased by a factor of 30 within 70 s, and then decreased on a similar timescale, all captured during a single four-minute exposure. This type of flaring emission has not previously been reported for Jupiter (similar, but smaller, transient events have been observed at Earth), and it may be related directly to changes in the solar wind.

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Figure 1: Hubble Space Telescope images of Jupiter's northern aurora on 21 September 1999.
Figure 2: The rapidly evolving auroral flare observed poleward of Jupiter's auroral oval.
Figure 3: Modelled solar wind dynamic pressure at Jupiter.


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We gratefully acknowledge discussions with B. T. Tsurutani and J. L. Burch and the support of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

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Correspondence to J. H. Waite Jr.

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