Shimmering curtains of green and red undulate across the sky like a living thing. New research shows that aurorae on distant "hot Jupiters" could be 100-1000 times brighter than Earthly aurorae. They also would ripple from equator to poles (due to the planet's proximity to any stellar eruptions), treating the entire planet to an otherworldly spectacle.
This artist's conception shows a "hot Jupiter" and its two hypothetical moons with a sunlike star in the background. The planet is cloaked in brilliant aurorae triggered by the impact of a coronal mass ejection. Theoretical calculations suggest that those aurorae could be 100-1000 times brighter than Earth's. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)
"I'd love to get a reservation on a tour to see these aurorae!" said lead author Ofer Cohen, a SHINE-NSF postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).
Earth's aurorae are created when energetic particles from the Sun slam into our planet's magnetic field. The field guides solar particles toward the poles, where they smash into Earth's atmosphere, causing air molecules to glow like a neon sign. The same process can occur on planets orbiting distant stars, known as exoplanets.
Particularly strong aurorae result when Earth is hit by a coronal mass ejection or CME - a gigantic blast that sends billions of tons of solar plasma (electrically charged, hot gas) into the solar system. A CME can disrupt Earth's magnetosphere - the bubble of space protected by Earth's magnetic field - causing a geomagnetic storm. In 1989, a CME hit Earth with such force that the resulting geomagnetic storm blacked out huge regions of Quebec.
Cohen and his colleagues used computer models to study what would happen if a gas giant in a close orbit, just a few million miles from its star, were hit by a stellar eruption. He wanted to learn the effect on the exoplanet's atmosphere and surrounding magnetosphere.
The alien gas giant would be subjected to extreme forces. In our solar system, a CME spreads out as it travels through space, so it's more diffuse once it reaches us. A "hot Jupiter" would feel a stronger and more focused blast, like the difference between being 100 miles from an erupting volcano or one mile away.
"The impact to the exoplanet would be completely different than what we see in our solar system, and much more violent," said co-author Vinay Kashyap of CfA.
In the model, a CME hits the "hot Jupiter" and weakens its magnetic shield. Then CME particles reach the gas giant's atmosphere. Its aurora lights up in a ring around the equator, 100-1000 times more energetic than Earthly aurorae. Over the course of about 6 hours, the aurora then ripples up and down toward the planet's north and south poles before gradually fading away.
Despite the extreme forces involved, the exoplanet's magnetic field shields its atmosphere from erosion.
"Our calculations show how well the planet's protective mechanism works," explained Cohen. "Even a planet with a magnetic field much weaker than Jupiter's would stay relatively safe."
This work has important implications for the habitability of rocky worlds orbiting distant stars. Since red dwarf stars are the most common stars in our galaxy, astronomers have suggested focusing on them in the search for Earthlike worlds.
However since a red dwarf is cooler than our Sun, a rocky planet would have to orbit very close to the star to be warm enough for liquid water. There, it would be subjected to the sort of violent stellar eruptions Cohen and his colleagues studied. Their future work will examine whether rocky worlds could shield themselves from such eruptions.
This research has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and is available online.
Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.
For more information, contact:David A. Aguilar
Christine Pulliam | EurekAlert!
Tune your radio: galaxies sing while forming stars
21.02.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie
Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms
17.02.2017 | Universität Konstanz
Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...
The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.
The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...
Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...
Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".
Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...
13.02.2017 | Event News
10.02.2017 | Event News
09.02.2017 | Event News
21.02.2017 | Earth Sciences
21.02.2017 | Medical Engineering
21.02.2017 | Trade Fair News