A pulsating auroral X-ray hot spot on Jupiter

Nature. 2002 Feb 28;415(6875):1000-3. doi: 10.1038/4151000a.


Jupiter's X-ray aurora has been thought to be excited by energetic sulphur and oxygen ions precipitating from the inner magnetosphere into the planet's polar regions. Here we report high-spatial-resolution observations that demonstrate that most of Jupiter's northern auroral X-rays come from a 'hot spot' located significantly poleward of the latitudes connected to the inner magnetosphere. The hot spot seems to be fixed in magnetic latitude and longitude and occurs in a region where anomalous infrared and ultraviolet emissions have also been observed. We infer from the data that the particles that excite the aurora originate in the outer magnetosphere. The hot spot X-rays pulsate with an approximately 45-min period, a period similar to that reported for high-latitude radio and energetic electron bursts observed by near-Jupiter spacecraft. These results invalidate the idea that jovian auroral X-ray emissions are mainly excited by steady precipitation of energetic heavy ions from the inner magnetosphere. Instead, the X-rays seem to result from currently unexplained processes in the outer magnetosphere that produce highly localized and highly variable emissions over an extremely wide range of wavelengths.