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Lightning On Jupiter Is Stunningly Similar To The Lightning Storms On Earth

09 June 2018, 11:59 | Justin Tyler

A 2017 file image from NASA shows the planet Jupiter when it was at a distance of about 415 million miles from Earth. via AP File

A 2017 file image from NASA shows the planet Jupiter when it was at a distance of about 415 million miles from Earth.  via AP File

In March 1979 apparatus "Voyager 1" recorded a low-frequency radio emission on Jupiter. That encounter confirmed the existence of the lightning, which had been theorized for years.

Scientists believe Juno was able to pick up the megahertz signatures because its flyby put it closer to the lightning than any spacecraft before it.

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

Lightning bolts in Jupiter's turbulent atmosphere have long puzzled scientists because they did not appear to generate the same high-energy radio emissions that accompany discharges in Earth's atmosphere. The image is based on a JunoCam image. "Many theories were offered up to explain it, but no one theory could ever get traction as the answer".

Juno launched back in 2011 with the goal of unlocking Jupiter's secrets to help NASA better understand the solar system and planet's origins. These sensitive instruments were helpful in recording the gas giant emissions. During its first eight trips around the planet, its Microwave Radiometer Instrument detected 377 lightning blasts. 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.

"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. With Juno in orbit around Jupiter, more information about Jovian lightning has been gathered.

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

On Earth, radiation from the Sun provides the most warmth to the planet's equator, which is why the equatorial zone between the tropical latitudes is so warm (and stormy).

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. 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. Unlike on Earth, lightning on Jupiter only seems to occur at high latitudes and is concentrated exclusively around the planet's poles. But another question looms.

"Given the very pronounced differences in the atmospheres between Jupiter and Earth", said William Kurth, the leading author of the second study, the similarities between lightning on Jupiter and the lightning storms on Earth are stunning.

One of the studies, featured in the journal Nature Astronomy, shows that lightning strikes on Jupiter "can be as frequent as on Earth", lead author Ivana Kolmašová of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague told Space.com.

Previous recordings of Jupiter's lightning, dubbed whistlers thanks to their characteristic whistle-like sound, all seemed to fall in the kilohertz range of the radio spectrum.

In addition, the Waves data uncovered peak rates of four lightning strikes per second - six times higher than the values recorded by Voyager 1 - which prove Jovian lightning has similar rates to those observed in terrestrial thunderstorms.

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