Juno Spacecraft Solves 39-Year Old Mystery of Jupiter Lightning

Juno Spacecraft Solves 39-Year Old Mystery of Jupiter Lightning

The image is based on a JunoCam image.

"No matter what planet you're on, lightning bolts act like radio transmitters - sending out radio waves when they flash across a sky", said Juno scientist Shannon Brown of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The other study, published in the journal Nature, unveiled that lighting on Jupiter produces not only kilohertz emissions, the singular radio range detected by Voyager 1 almost four decades ago, but also gigahertz radio waves, just like lightning on Earth. "Many theories were offered up to explain it, but no one theory could ever get traction as the answer". Since NASA thinks it will take another 34 orbits to complete mapping the planet the mission has been extended. It records emissions coming from Jupiter and reads it across a wide spectrum of frequencies. During its first eight trips around the planet, its Microwave Radiometer Instrument detected 377 lightning blasts.

On Earth, radio waves associated with lightning are in the megahertz range. Now the Juno orbiter has revealed a surprise: Those strikes are more similar to lightning strikes on Earth than previously thought. The lightning originates at Jupiter's poles, rather than distributed across its surface, and the researchers attribute that to Jupiter's distance from the Sun. "You can ask anybody who lives in the tropics - this doesn't hold true for our planet".

In a nutshell, what NASA has found is that the lightning on Jupiter is strikingly similar to lightning on Earth in terms of frequency.

Earth's derives the vast majority of its heat externally from solar radiation.

This means that the sun's rays are powerful enough to heat Jupiter's equator, which creates stability in the region's upper atmosphere and prevents warm air from rising up from within. However, the team explains, that tiny quantity of heat it does receive from the Sun does heat up its equator more than the poles. Unlike on Earth, lightning on Jupiter only seems to occur at high latitudes and is concentrated exclusively around the planet's poles.

Although Jupiter's equator is also warmer than its poles, scientists believe that it's down the stability of the atmosphere. That's because warm air allows moisture to rise more freely through the atmosphere, fueling the thunderstorms that produce lightning, according to NASA.

"These findings could help to improve our understanding of the composition, circulation and energy flows on Jupiter", said Brown. But another question looms, she said.

Jupiter's lightning, however, appeared different than thunderstorms here on Earth.

The team's finding was corroborated in a second paper, also published in Nature.

Juno has been returning stunning close-up pictures of Jupiter since the probe first arrived at the doorstep of the gassy planet on July 4, 2016, Gizmodo reported.

"To really understand Jupiter, you need to map it", said Scott Bolton, principal investigator and associate vice president at the Southwest Research Institute. "Our unique orbit allows our spacecraft to fly closer to Jupiter than any other spacecraft in history". 2018. Prevalent lightning sferics at 600 megahertz near Jupiter's poles.

Ivana Kolmašová et al. Now, reports Charles Q. Choi at Space.com, the Juno spacecraft has taken its own measurements and found that lightning on Jupiter is not as odd as we once thought.