Published: Sat, June 09, 2018
Science | By Michele Flores

Lightning Strikes on Jupiter Differ From Ours in One Way

Lightning Strikes on Jupiter Differ From Ours in One Way

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

Scientists predicted the possibility of the existence of the so-called "Jupiter lightning" for centuries, and these predictions were confirmed in 1979.

But when the spacecraft set past Jupiter, the data showed radio signals showing the lightning at Jupiter did not match the details of Earth's lightning. At the point when NASA sent its Voyager 1 rocket on its outing through our Solar System, its flyby of Jupiter uncovered that Jupiter does surely have lightning, however it wasn't delivering similar sorts of radio flags that researchers know about from lightning here on Earth. But Jupiter gets most of its energy from inside itself, with the Sun contributing one 25th as much energy than on Earth due to the giant planet's great distance.

Enter NASA's Juno orbiter. These sensitive instruments were helpful in recording the gas giant emissions. However, on Jupiter, lightning is clustered in the polar regions.

On Earth, radio waves associated with lightning are in the megahertz range. 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.

Now back to our days, according to a new study published in the journal Nature, it was revealed that the giant planet's lightning is more similar to Earth's than it was thought before.

"There is a lot of activity near Jupiter's poles but none near the equator. You can ask anybody who lives in the tropics-this doesn't hold true for our planet", Mr Brown added. Why are so many of Jupiter's lightning storms clustered around the poles when those on Earth are more common near the equator?

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The overwhelming majority of heat on Earth comes from the Sun. 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. The team believes that this difference in temperature is enough to stabilize Jupiter's upper atmosphere around the equator, preventing gases further below to rise through convection. But another question looms. Having said that, there is a stark difference in where lightning strikes on Earth when compared to Jupiter.

In a separate paper published in Nature, a team of researchers led by Ivana Kolmašová of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague presented the largest database of low-frequency lightning-generated emissions collected to date.

"Even though we see lightning near both poles, why is it mostly recorded at Jupiter's north pole?"

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. "Our unique orbit allows our spacecraft to fly closer to Jupiter than any other spacecraft in history".

"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".

Shannon Brown et al. This rate and amount is six times more lightning than Voyager observed.

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