Published: Sat, June 09, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Jupiter Lightning Strikes Are Similar To Earth's, But Different, Juno Data Reveals

Jupiter Lightning Strikes Are Similar To Earth's, But Different, Juno Data Reveals

While "Jovian Lightning" had been theorized for centuries, it wasn't until 1979 that NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft flew by Jupiter and confirmed the gas giant experiences lightning. The Juno mission, however, gave researchers a chance to dig deeper into Jupiter's lightning.

It was in the year 2016 that the Juno spacecraft flew closer to the giant Jupiter.

NASA researchers just published a new paper in Nature that describes how they used data from the Juno probe to solve the mystery of Jupiter's unusual lightning, and it reveals that the planet's storms produce flashes that are both very similar and also completely different from lightning on Earth.

In a second Juno lightning paper published today in Nature Astronomy, Ivana Kolmašová of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, and colleagues, present the largest database of lightning-generated low-frequency radio emissions around Jupiter (whistlers) to date. Once it reached close to the Jupiter, the Juno made the use of an array of highly sensitive instruments it carried. The set of over 1,600 signals, was also produced with data gathered from Juno. When lightning strikes, it acts like a radio transmitter, blasting radio waves with each strike, according to NASA.

This bounty of data is attributed to the close range at which Juno surveilled the gas giant.

Juno is unraveling Jupiter's mysteries. Juno distinguished peak rates of four lightning strikes for every second, which is six times higher than the peak values identified by Voyager 1.

All 377 lightning discharges recorded in Juno's first eight flybys struck in the Earth-like megahertz and gigahertz range.

This surprising discovery shows us that Jupiter's lightning strikes are actually similar to our planet's.

But the radio signals slightly differed from what researchers have recorded on Earth, raising questions about the nature of lightning on Jupiter.

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These differences can be attributed to the different way heat is distributed across the two planets. "We can't explain why we see almost twice the amount of lightning in the Northern Hemisphere of Jupiter than we do in the Southern Hemisphere", Brown said.

But what makes Jovian lighting different from terrestrial lighting is its distribution.

Jupiter's turbulent atmosphere is riddled with storms, so it stands to reason there's lightning there too. "You can ask anybody who lives in the tropics-this doesn't hold true for our planet", Mr Brown added. "On Earth, thunderstorms tend to cluster around low latitudes, and on Jupiter, it's the other way around". This, in turn, is what causes lightning fueled by thunderstorms.

Artist's concept of lightning in Jupiter's northern hemisphere. In line with its tweet on its NASA Juno mission, NASA is taking long strides to keep its mission in place, and all we can say, as is posted in the tweet, "Just keep spinning, just keep spinning..."

"These findings could help to improve our understanding of the composition, circulation, and energy flows on Jupiter", Brown concluded.

Jupiter is about 25 times farther from the sun than Earth, meaning that, unlike our planet, it gets the majority of its heat from itself.

But the poles are a different story and don't have the same atmospheric stability because their upper atmosphere doesn't receive the same amount of heat.

The next job for Juno is another flyby, the thirteenth since arriving, over the planet's cloud tops.

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