Astronomers Reveal Most Exclusive Findings about Jupiter


"They were recorded in the megahertz as well as gigahertz range, which is what you can find with terrestrial lightning emissions", Brown explains.

Together, these findings represent the most detailed and comprehensive look at Jupiter's lightning to date, and provide important clues to figuring out the complex dynamics hidden by the planet's opaque layers of stormy clouds.

Until the evolution of the NASA's Juno Mission, all the lightning signals recorded earlier were limited to visual detections or the radio spectrum's kilohertz range.

According to NASA, this is the largest database of low-frequency radio emissions to ever be recorded from lightning sources on Jupiter. Discovery of rapid whistlers close to Jupiter implying lightning rates similar to those on Earth.

Artist's concept of lightning in Jupiter's northern hemisphere.

"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.

NASA's Juno orbiter mission to Jupiter has been thrown a lifeline with the space agency approving a 41-month extension. 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.

"Many theories were offered up to explain it, but no one theory could ever get traction as the answer", says Shannon Brown, Juno scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a press release. As Choi reports, scientists have speculated many reasons behind the difference, including variations in the atmosphere or even fundamental distinctions between how lightning forms. The sun still heats up Jupiter's equator more than it's poles, but scientists believe this minimal warming effect is just enough to stabilize its atmosphere and allow warm air to rise from within, creating the convection needed to produce lightning. The spacecraft came nearly 50 times closer to the planet than Voyager 1 ever did, flying "closer to Jupiter than any other spacecraft in history", states Juno's principal investigator Scott Bolton from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, who was involved in both studies.

Because the poles do not have this upper-level warmth creating atmospheric stability, the warm gases from Jupiter's interior are able to rise and result in powerful lightning storms.

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

Jupiter's orbit is five times farther from the Sun than Earth's orbit, which means that the giant planet receives 25 times less sunlight than Earth.

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

But there's one more way lightning on Jupiter is similar to Earth lightning.

William Kurth of the University of Iowa, who is study co-author on both papers, notes that the similarities found between lightning strikes on these two planets were a bit of a surprise.

Brown said these findings could help scientists' understand how energy flows on Jupiter.

The $1.1 billion Juno mission has been extended through at least July 2021, NASA officials announced yesterday (June 6).

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.