NASA probe solves mystery about Jupiter's lightning


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

That extraordinary encounter affirmed the existence of the theory of Nasa's scientists of Jovian lighting.

The Article from NASA to Extend Juno Jupiter's Mission by Three Years. In some ways, it is actually the polar opposite. Well, long before we had Juno orbiting Jupiter, scientists were able to record the lightning on this planet only within the kilohertz range. It records emissions coming from Jupiter and reads it across a wide spectrum of frequencies.

The resemblance of Jupiter to our planet was confirmed by a second study led by Dr. Ivana Kolpashovo, which revealed that lightning on Jupiter blow at a speed, such as those that occur during thunderstorms on Earth. The bolts were recorded both in the megahertz as well as gigahertz ranges, which is similar to the lightning that is found on Earth, says Brown. 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. With Juno in orbit around Jupiter, more information about Jovian lightning has been gathered.

"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".

Unlike earth, Jupiter's lightning occur near the poles, but never near the equator.

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This causes warm most air to rise most freely at the equator, powering huge lightning storms. But even though Jupiter's atmosphere derives the majority of its heat from within the planet itself, this doesn't render the Sun's rays irrelevant. It brought to light many new facts associated with the huge gas world including- the red spot's depth, the 3D imagery of gas underneath the surface of the planet, and the functionality of Jupiter's auroras. 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.

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

They do provide some warmth, heating up Jupiter's equator more than the poles - just as they heat up Earth. That's 10 times more than the number of signals picked up by Voyager 1. Striking a note similar to the thunderstorms on Earth, Juno detected peak lightning strikes of 4 per second, exceeding the peak values detected by Voyager 1 by 6 times.

"These updated plans for Juno will allow it to complete its primary science goals", said Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton.

Trapped in a 53-day orbit, the Juno mission was hampered because the spacecraft is in a very eccentric trajectory that allows it to pass under Jupiter's deadly radiation belts to make observations of the cloud tops at a closer distance than any previous mission.

"No matter what planet you're on, lightning bolts act like radio transmitters, sending out radio waves when they flash across a sky", said Shannon Brown, a Juno researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. NASA just re-enlisted Juno, adding another 41 months to its mission.