NASA's Juno Probe Unlocks Secrets of Jupiter's Unusual Lightning Storms

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

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

"We can't explain why we see almost twice the amount of lightning in the Northern Hemisphere of Jupiter than we do in the Southern Hemisphere", Brown said.

But the radio signals slightly differed from what researchers have recorded on Earth, raising questions about the nature of lightning on Jupiter. This is far more than earlier spacecraft could detect. When NASA sent its Voyager 1 spacecraft on its trip through our Solar System, its flyby of Jupiter revealed that Jupiter does indeed have lightning, but it wasn't producing the same kinds of radio signals that scientists are familiar with from lightning here on Earth.

"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".

NASA's Juno spacecraft will maintain its 53-day polar orbit around Jupiter during its continued mission.

An artist's impression of lightning bolts in the northern hemisphere of Jupiter.

In a new paper published in Nature today, scientists from NASA's Juno mission describe the ways in which lightning on Jupiter is actually analogous to Earth's lightning. Our equator receives a much larger slice of this energy than the rest of the planet (that's why it's the hottest bit), meaning air masses above the equator have a lot of energy at their disposal to move around through convection.

"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. Unlike on Earth, lightning on Jupiter only seems to occur at high latitudes and is concentrated exclusively around the planet's poles. On Earth, warm, moist air around the equator fuels thunderstorms and in turn lightening, but on Jupiter warm air rises at the planet's poles due to their lack of atmospheric stability.

The previous observations of Jupiter's lightning found very low-frequency, lightning-generated radio waves compared to the radio waves of Earth's lightning.

Presently, notwithstanding, Juno can hear the signs the others missed, and that implies the lightning on Jupiter is quite part like our own... yet not precisely the same.

"Our unique orbit allows our spacecraft to fly closer to Jupiter than any other spacecraft in history, so the signal strength of what the planet is radiating out is a thousand times stronger", Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, said.

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

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.

The information suggests Jupiter's lightning might be connected to the planet's source of heat.

Also, the second study on thunderstorms of Jupiter confirms the findings of the first one. Therefore, warm gases from the planet's interior are rising up at the poles, creating the recipe for lighting. Because a group of experts found the results achieved so far satisfactory and seeing how close the mission is to achieving its goals, NASA was able to to extend the life of the machine by 2021. The decision was made on June 7, following an assessment that Juno is still capable of collecting science data.

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