On Earth, the Northern Lights, or aurorae, are caused when particles erupt from the sun and go skidding across the surface of our magnetosphere, creating vast glowing streaks in the sky and sometimes interfering with satellite communications. But what would the aurorae look like on other planets? One group of astrophysicists wanted to find out. So they used computer models to create this incredible video, showing what would happen if a coronal mass ejection, or super solar flare, caused aurorae on a "hot Jupiter," a gas giant close to its sun in another solar system.


According to a release from Harvard about the new study:

[Harvard/Smithsonian astrophysicist] Ofer 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.


What's cool is that this hot Jupiter closely resembles several exoplanets we've already found in orbit around other stars — so one day, our space-faring descendants might actually witness this phenomenon in another solar system.

Read the full scientific paper via Arxiv

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