Every 45 minutes a gigawatt pulse of x-rays courses through the solar system. ?The pulses are coming from the north pole of Jupiter,? says Randy Gladstone of the Southwest Research Institute, who made the discovery using NASA?s orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory.
?We weren?t surprised to find x-rays coming from Jupiter,? he says. Other observatories discovered this years ago. What?s surprising is the location of the x-ray beacon, which is a spot close the planet?s pole, and the regular way it pulses.
?The 45-minute pulsations are very mysterious,? says Ron Elsner, an x-ray astronomer at NASA. They?re not perfectly regular like an extraterrestrial signal would be; instead, it drifts back and forth by a few percent. ?This is a natural process,? he says. ?We just don?t know what it is...."
While the researchers were using Chandra to observe Jupiter, two other NASA spacecraft were nearby. Galileo was deep inside Jupiter?s magnetic field, while Cassini was outside sampling the solar wind. Neither craft detected any 45-minute variations in their surroundings, such as plasma waves or surges of energetic particles, ?although such variations have been detected by Galileo at other times,? says Gladstone. Galileo has also picked up radio bursts that come and go within a 45-minute period, as did NASA?s Ulysses spacecraft when it flew by Jupiter in 1992.
Gladstone says, ?Maybe Jupiter?s magnetic field, when it gets hit by a solar wind gust, rings like a bell with a 45-minute period.?
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