The Mystery of Insane Lightning Storms on Jupiter Has Finally Been Solved

09 June, 2018, 12:00 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • Space								Image Source NASA

This striking finding underlines how Jupiter's lightning shares similarities with the lightning on Earth, however, Brown's observations in his paper also reveals that the site of the striking of the lightning on these two planets is very different. The bolts were recorded both in the megahertz as well as gigahertz ranges, which is similar to the lightning that is found on Earth, says Brown. Specifically, the mission's main goal is to try and determine how much water is in the planet's atmosphere and to measure its composition, temperature, cloud patterns, and map its magnetic and gravity fields. But this time, according to Shannon Brown, a lead author on the paper, these lightning strikes were able to be recorded in the megahertz range, which is the same we use to measure the radio waves from the lightning experienced on Earth.

"Also, our microwave and plasma wave instruments are state-of-the-art, allowing us to pick out even weak lightning signals from the cacophony of radio emissions from Jupiter".

NASA's Juno spacecraft gets an extension to orbit Jupiter for the next three years.

This artist's concept of lightning distribution in Jupiter's northern hemisphere incorporates a JunoCam image with artistic embellishments.

"Lightning on Jupiter can be as frequent as on Earth", stated Ivana Kolmasova from the Czech Academy of Sciences and the leading author of one of the recent studies. Even more, the NASA's Juno's readings showed that the intensity of lightning on Jupiter is by about 6 times higher than that estimated by Voyager in 1979. Our equator receives a much larger slice of this energy than the rest of the planet (that's why it's the hottest bit), meaning air masses above the equator have a lot of energy at their disposal to move around through convection. Unlike on Earth, lightning on Jupiter only seems to occur at high latitudes and is concentrated exclusively around the planet's poles. Its mission managers initially wanted to destroy the orbiter by plunging it into Jupiter's clouds sometime after it concludes its mission in July. Because the gas giant orbits the sun five times farther than Earth does, it gets 25 times less sunlight than our planet.


But there's one more way lightning on Jupiter is similar to Earth lightning. In the release, Brown explains a possible reason behind the discrepancy: "We think the reason we are the only ones who can see it is because Juno is flying closer to the lighting than ever before, and we are searching at a radio frequency that passes easily through Jupiter's ionosphere". It is believed that this effect is due to differences in the distribution of heat on both planets. The sun's rays that warm our own planet hit the equator first, and it is the warm, humid air rising at this band that drives its lightning.

But there is one big difference between lightning on Jupiter and Earth: location. As Jupiter produces lightning through electrical reactions between ice and water droplets, the lightning's location suggests that the water-filled gas in the atmosphere circulates toward the poles.

Juno will make flyby number 13 over Jupiter on 16 July this year.

"Our unique orbit allows our spacecraft to fly closer to Jupiter than any other spacecraft in history, so the signal strength of what the planet is radiating out is a thousand times stronger", Scott Bolton, Juno's principal investigator, said in the statement.

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