The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is a spectacular sight on Earth, topping every major bucket list. But Earth isn't the only planet to host this magical phenomenon. In fact, every planet in the Solar System except Mercury produces polar lights, and if you're thinking about expanding your bucket list, you might want to consider a trip to Jupiter.

As the largest planet in the Solar System, Jupiter is a world of extremes. It produces colossal storms that occasionally dwarf entire planets, changes the behaviour of the asteroid belt with its gravitational influence, and the whole system - including its large, fascinating moons - is shrouded by intense radiation trapped within its magnetic field. It's hardly surprising that Jovian auroras are the most magnificent, but they may also be the strangest.

First discovered in 1979 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft, Jupiter's polar lights have since inspired a great deal of research. Unlike the auroras on Earth and other planets, which are formed as a result of plasma in the solar wind, Jupiter's auroras are largely fuelled by its own radiation environment. Solar plasma plays a small role, but most of the material comes from the volcanic moon Io, whose eruptions flood the inner portion of the Jovian magnetosphere. The planet's powerful magnetic field, in concert with the magnetic fields of Io and the other three Galilean Moons - Europa, Ganymede and Callisto - accelerates plasma towards the poles. The resulting auroras are much more energetic than those produced on Earth, and consequently shine brightly in the ultraviolet (UV) part of the spectrum. Most detailed images of their structure, including the one below from the Hubble Space Telescope, have been captured with UV instruments.

The four large moons, each with a magnetic field of its own, produce additional currents in Jupiter's magnetosphere. These are made evident by bright 'spots' in the polar ovals, which serve as unique markers for each moon. Since Io contributes most of the plasma that forms these auroras, they remain highly active all the time - their appearance is not dependant on the changing characteristics of the solar wind, or the arrival of magnetic storms associated with solar coronal mass ejections.

The auroras are so powerful, in fact, that they are also seen clearly in the infrared (IR.) The James Webb Space Telescope, with its specialist IR imaging suite, captured this detailed portrait of Jupiter with its faint rings and both auroral ovals visible together. A bright IR emission is evident at both poles at all times. These false colour images are excellent for scientists studying Jupiter and its space weather environment, but what would our eyes see? 

Naturally, with such bright emissions either side of the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum, Jupiter also produces dazzling auroras at visible wavelengths. If we could travel there, we would witness the most spectacular displays in the Solar System. Floating above the cloud decks under the polar ovals,  we'd see brilliant curtains of multitudinous colours dancing apparently endlessly in all directions. Blues, pinks, reds and yellows would be clearly visible alongside the green that is so common. Meanwhile, beneath us, massive lightning strikes would flash wildly in the giant storms that battle for supremacy on unimaginable scales.

It's a dream destination for any aurora-chaser, but with all this spectacle comes a downside. The intense radiation environment that produces these auroras is incredibly lethal, and will remain so until we develop technology that, for the time being, seems confined to science fiction. We can't fulfil that bucket list dream and spend a night under the Jovian auroras yet, but perhaps this will become a desirable tourist destination for space travellers in the very distant future!

Image credits: Ron Miller, NASA/ESA, John Clarke, CSA, Jupiter ERS Team, Ricardo Hueso, Judy Schmidt