Hydrogen 'ribbon' wraps Jupiter's magnetic equator in mystery

A new study discovered a hydrogen "ribbon" encircling Jupiter, shattered our previous beliefs regarding the giant planet's equator.
By Tyler MacDonald | Jul 25, 2018
Researchers just discovered a dark "ribbon" encircling Jupiter. The phenomenon is made of weak hydrogen ion emissions and has effectively overturned our previous beliefs regarding the planet's magnetic equator.

Previous studies of Jupiter's ionosphere focused almost exclusively on the planet's poles, which suggested that its ionosphere is smooth and fairly uninteresting. But the new study opens up the entire ionosphere for investigation, suggesting that Jupiter's ionosphere is complex and possesses many details that we have yet to discover with our current technology.

And the recent data obtained from NASA's Juno spacecraft supports the theory proposed by the new study: that the "ribbon" is a signature for the magnetic equator of Jupiter.

"The first time we saw the dark ribbon winding its way around Jupiter in our data, we felt sure we were seeing something special at Jupiter," saidTom Stallard of the University of Leicester and lead author of the study. "The result was so startling and yet clear, it took us all by surprise, and we strongly suspected and speculated that the feature was caused by Jupiter's magnetic equator."

"It was a great relief to us that a few months before our paper was published the first magnetic model of Jupiter was released from the Juno spacecraft, providing an unprecedented view of Jupiter's equatorial magnetic field, and the measured magnetic equator lined up almost exactly with our dark ribbon of emission," he continued.

"Our observations, along with the recent measurements by Juno spacecraft, have surprised us," he added. "Some of Jupiter's auroral regions were highly complex, and so many earlier models predicted a very complex magnetic equator to match with this, but the magnetic equator is actually shaped much more like that of Earth."

The findings were published in Nature Astronomy.

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