44-year-old Voyager 2 data sheds light on solar system's magnetic personalities

Magnetosheath jets found around Earth may be present on other planets after Jupiter discovery

Researchers, after discovering magnetosheath jets around Jupiter, now believe these phenomena may exist on all solar system planets.

A team based in China used data from NASA's Voyager 2 probe – which launched in 1977 and left the heliosphere in 2018 – to show that jets of charged particle plasma can be found in the magnetosheath of the largest planet in the solar system.

The magnetosheath is the region of a planet's magnetic field between the leading bow shock – the first interaction with the solar wind of proton-electron plasma – and the magnetopause, where pressure from the solar wind and the planet's magnetic field are equal. Ripples in the bow shock, thought to cause plasma jets in the magnetosheath, have been observed around Earth and Mars, as a June 2023 study indicates.

Other studies suggest that Mercury may exhibit them as well. Studying the formation and influence of jets in Earth's magnetosheath is important for understanding space weather events that could affect satellite operations and communications.

New research using data collected by Voyager 2 as the engineering marvel visited Jupiter in 1979 shows the gas giant exhibits the same weird celestial phenomena, leading scientists to speculate that similar phenomena may occur on other solar system planets.

A team led by Professor Chao Shen of the Harbin Institute of Technology in Shenzhen, China, observed three plasma jets in Jupiter's magnetosheath. One was moving in toward the Sun in the opposite direction to the solar wind, while the other two were moving away from the Sun, according to the study published in Nature Communications.

The research also looked at data from the more recent Cassini mission, which launched in 1997 and ended with a controlled descent into Saturn's atmosphere in September 2017. The more recent data showed evidence of a jet moving toward the Sun in Saturn's magnetosheath.

"Finally, through a comparative analysis of jets observed at Earth, Mars, and Jupiter, we show that the size of jets scales with the size of bow shock," the authors said.

They also suggested that while data was scarce owing to the paucity of space missions in close proximity to the planets, there might be more evidence to be found between them.

"Comparative studies of jets across planetary magnetosheath provide a new angle to shocks and magnetospheres. Yet the available measurements are limited. While Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, Mercury have their own dedicated missions, due to limitations in instrumentation capabilities and orbital effects, the data cannot be used for statistical studies of magnetosheath jets. Mars is the only planet that accommodates large database. One other possibility is the downstream of interplanetary shocks throughout the heliosphere, which is planned in future research," the authors said. ®

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