Jupiter's & Saturn's Magnetospheres

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  • 0:01 The Belts Around the Earth
  • 0:38 Magnetosphere, Solar…
  • 1:49 The Inner…
  • 3:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson will compare and contrast the magnetospheres of Jupiter, Saturn, and Earth. You'll learn how they're similar and what major difference exists between them.

The Belts Around the Earth

If I told you, metaphorically speaking, that Saturn and Jupiter have a belt around it, what would pop into your mind first? You'd probably think I was talking about Saturn's and Jupiter's rings circling around them like a belt may circle around your waist.

But what if I said Earth has belts around it that both Saturn and Jupiter also have, only these ones have nothing to do with beautiful rings? What belts am I talking about then?

Well, this lesson will tell you what belts these are and how similar or different they are from one another based on the planet we're talking about.

Magnetosphere, Solar Wind & Magnetotail

Earth has two belts, called Van Allen belts, where it traps energetically-charged particles like a magnet traps metal. The Van Allen belts are located in the magnetosphere, the outermost part of any planet's atmosphere, the part dominated by the planet's magnetic field.

Like Earth, Jupiter and Saturn also have magnetic fields. Since they are big planets, the magnetic fields on Jupiter and Saturn are very strong, and their magnetospheres are much larger than that of Earth.

The magnetospheres of Jupiter and Saturn function in much the same way as Earth's, as they force the solar wind to flow around each planet like water is forced to flow around a big rock in a stream of water. The solar wind that flows around a planet is a stream of plasma coming from the Sun.

The Sun's diameter is 10 times smaller than the diameter of Jupiter's magnetosphere. Jupiter's magnetotail, the part of the magnetosphere located behind a planet, actually extends far beyond the orbit of Saturn, and while Saturn's magnetosphere isn't as impressive as Jupiter's, it's still very large.

The Inner Magnetosphere & Ionized Gas

The inner portions of Jupiter and Saturn's magnetospheres trap ions and electrons and, thus, act just like Earth's Van Allen belts. As on Earth, when energetic particles in these belts interact with the upper atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn, they produce beautiful aurorae, which are those bright and pretty lights we typically see at the Earth's polar regions, except the aurorae produced on Jupiter and Saturn are even brighter.

So far in this lesson, it seems like the magnetospheres of Jupiter and Saturn and their related concepts are basically the same as they are for Earth, except on a larger scale. However, there is one critical difference between Earth and those two Jovian planets. Earth's magnetosphere contains ionized gas that's captured from either the solar wind or its upper atmosphere. Jupiter and Saturn's ionized gas in the magnetosphere mainly come from elsewhere. The major source of ionized gas in Jupiter and Saturn's magnetosphere is their respective satellites. That is to say, their moons.

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