Research team identifies giant swirling waves at the edge of Jupiter's magnetosphere

The Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA)-led research team has discovered that the solar wind-to-magnetosphere transition point, where NASA's Juno spacecraft orbits Jupiter, is often impacted by enormous whirling waves. The waves are a crucial mechanism for moving mass and energy from the planetary space habitats to the solar wind, the sun's stream of charged particles.

These occurrences, according to Jake Montgomery, a doctorate student in the combined space physics program of UTSA and SwRI, take place when a significant velocity differential arises across the boundary between two areas of space. At the magnetopause, which is where a planet's magnetic field and solar wind meet, this can produce a whirling wave or vortex. Although not visible to the human eye, these Kelvin-Helmholtz waves can be found by sensor measurements of space plasma and magnetic fields. The cosmos is filled with plasma, a basic form of matter composed of charged particles, ions, and electrons.

In our solar system and across the cosmos, Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities—a fundamental physical process—occur when solar and stellar winds interact with planetary magnetic fields, according to Montgomery. The fact that these waves were spotted by Juno throughout a number of its orbits is unmistakable proof that Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities are actively involved in the interaction between the solar wind and Jupiter.

A research using data from many Juno sensors, including its magnetometer and the SwRI-built Jovian Auroral Distributions Experiment (JADE), was published in Geophysical Research Letters with Montgomery as the primary author.

Detailed measurements of phenomena like Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities in this region have been made possible by Juno's prolonged proximity to Jupiter's magnetopause, according to Dr. Robert Ebert, a staff scientist at SwRI and adjunct professor at UTSA. Because it may carry plasma and energy beyond the magnetopause and into Jupiter's magnetosphere, this solar wind interaction is crucial for sustaining activity in that system.