Auroras spotted outside the solar system for the first time

A planet hundreds of times bigger than Earth is the first object outside our solar system discovered to have auroras.  A new study published in the journal Nature says the planet called LSR J1835+3259 is a brown dwarf roughly 20 light years from Earth and is hundreds of times bigger than our blue marble.  Brown dwarfs are the weird in between objects as they aren’t quite planets, because they are too big, but aren’t a star either because they don’t harbor fusion to create heat and radiation.

Artist’s rendition of auroras on planet LSR J1835+3259 courtesy of Chuck Carter and Gregg Hallinan of Caltech and Mashable

The auroras found on LSR are about 10,000 times bigger than our own Northern Lights, but scientists have yet to figure out how they form.  Earth’s auroras are produced because radiation and plasma get ejected from our sun, travel by the Earth, and react with our ionosphere that protects the surface from the harmful rays.  Jupiter and Saturn actually have a similar reaction to the sun’s radiation.  But LSR’s auroras don’t appear to be a reaction from a nearby star which has scientists baffled.  Many theorize that they are actually produced from a nearby moon that could be reacting with the ionosphere in some way, something that occurs to Jupiter when one of its large moons lo makes a close pass.

Auroras on Jupiter courtesy of AURA/STSCI

This discovery will hopefully shed some light on other ways we can discover if distant planets have auroras.  It’s important because auroras show the presence for the potential for a viable atmosphere which could contain life.

The information in this article was provided by the journal Nature, Mashable, & NASA.


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