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Observation and origin of non-thermal hard X-rays from Jupiter

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Kaya Mori
  • Charles Hailey
  • Gabriel Bridges
  • Shifra Mandel
  • Amani Garvin
  • Brian Grefenstette
  • W.R. Dunn
  • Benjamin Hord
  • Graziella Branduardi-Raymont
  • John Clarke
  • Caitriona M. Jackman
  • Melania Nynka
  • Licia C Ray
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/04/2022
<mark>Journal</mark>Nature Astronomy
Number of pages7
Pages (from-to)442-448
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date10/02/22
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Electrons accelerated on Earth by a rich variety of wave-scattering or stochastic processes generate hard, non-thermal X-ray bremsstrahlung up to ~1 MeV and power Earth’s various types of aurorae. Although Jupiter’s magnetic field is an order of magnitude larger than Earth’s, space-based telescopes have previously detected X-rays only up to ~7 keV. On the basis of theoretical models of the Jovian auroral X-ray production, X-ray emission in the ~2–7 keV band has been interpreted as thermal (arising from electrons characterized by a Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution) bremsstrahlung. Here we report the observation of hard X-rays in the 8–20 keV band from the Jovian aurorae, obtained with the NuSTAR X-ray observatory. The X-rays fit to a flat power-law model with slope of 0.60 ± 0.22—a spectral signature of non-thermal, hard X-ray bremsstrahlung. We determine the electron flux and spectral shape in the kiloelectronvolt to megaelectronvolt energy range using coeval in situ measurements taken by the Juno spacecraft’s JADE and JEDI instruments. Jovian electron spectra of the form we observe have previously been interpreted as arising in stochastic acceleration, rather than coherent acceleration by electric fields. We reproduce the X-ray spectral shape and approximate flux observed by NuSTAR, and explain the non-detection of hard X-rays by Ulysses, by simulating the non-thermal population of electrons undergoing precipitating electron energy loss, secondary electron generation and bremsstrahlung emission in a model Jovian atmosphere. The results highlight the similarities between the processes generating hard X-ray aurorae on Earth and Jupiter, which may be occurring on Saturn, too.