A team led by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) has found that NASA’s Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter frequently encounters giant swirling waves at the boundary between the solar wind and Jupiter’s magnetosphere. The waves are an important process for transferring energy and mass from the solar wind, a stream of charged particles emitted by the Sun, to planetary space environments.

Jake Montgomery, a doctoral student in the joint space physics program between UTSA and SwRI, noted that these phenomena occur when a large difference in velocity forms across the boundary between two regions in space. This can create a swirling wave, or vortex, at the interface that separates a planet’s magnetic field and the solar wind, known as the magnetopause. These Kelvin-Helmholtz waves are not visible to the naked eye but can be detected through instrument observations of plasma and magnetic fields in space. Plasma — a fundamental state of matter made up of charged particles, ions and electrons — is ubiquitous across the universe.

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