Lightning at Jupiter is just like Earth's. Except where it's not

An artist's impression of the lightning storms on Jupiter. Pic NASA  JPL

An artist's impression of the lightning storms on Jupiter. Pic NASA JPL

But the state-of-the-art science equipment on board the spacecraft allowed it to capture unique data on Jupiter's lightning strikes, unraveling some of the mysteries that have been puzzling astronomers for nearly 40 years. The first observations of lightning on Jupiter were made in the 70s, more specifically, in 1979 when Voyager 1 caught some low-frequency radio waves coming from Jupiter, as reported.

The Article from NASA to Extend Juno Jupiter's Mission by Three Years. In spite of the fact that, in some ways, the two kinds of lightning are polar opposites.

"Jupiter lightning distribution is inside out relative to Earth", Shannon Brown of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and lead author of a paper published Wednesday in Nature, said in a NASA statement.

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", Brown said of the problem. But the Juno spacecraft's orbit around the giant planet carries it much closer than earlier probes and its Microwave Radiometer Instrument has, in fact, found megahertz and gigahertz emissions like those seen at Earth.

There is a key difference between Jupiter's lightning and Earth's, however.

"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", she added. Only now, after over 30 years, NASA's Juno mission has sent back enough information about Jovian lightning and it has revealed how it is both similar and quite different from Earth's lightning.

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

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"There is a lot of activity near Jupiter's poles but none near the equator", Brown said. "You can ask anybody who lives in the tropics - this doesn't hold true for our planet", says Brown.

This causes warm most air to rise most freely at the equator, powering huge lightning storms.

Jupiter, on the other hand, receives 25 times less sunlight than the Earth and derives most of its heat from within the planet. Although Jupiter gets its heat internally from within itself, solar radiation can't be absolutely ruled out as insignificant as Jupiter's equator maintains its heat through the sun rays, just like on Earth.

Image: The equator may be the most stable part of gas giant Jupiter's atmosphere. But another question looms. Unlike on Earth, lightning on Jupiter only seems to occur at high latitudes and is concentrated exclusively around the planet's poles. This paper published in the Journal Nature presents a largest ever known collection of the recordings of lightning from the magnificent Jupiter.

The team recorded over 1,600 of the signals, compared to just 167 collected by Voyager 1.

Juno detected peak rates of four lightning strikes per second (similar to the rates observed in thunderstorms on Earth) which is six times higher than the peak values detected by Voyager 1.

Juno's Principle investigator from the South West Research Institute, Scott Bolton, revealed in an email that the orbits are longer than expected and that is why the spacecraft needs more time to collect planned scientific measurements.

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