The curious case of Jupiter’s lightning, solved by the Juno craft

6_7_Jupiter lightning

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

However, when NASA's Voyager 1 probe made a flyby of Jupiter in March 1979, there was a bit of a surprise. That encounter confirmed the existence of the lightning, which had been theorized for years. For nearly 40 years the question of the differences of lightning on the planets remained unsolved. In some ways, it is actually the polar opposite.

"No matter what planet you are from, lightning act as transmitters, sending radio waves when they penetrate the sky", said Dr. Shannon brown, lead author of the first study from the jet propulsion laboratory of NASA.

The mystery remained unsolved for nearly 40 years because every spacecraft that flew by Jupiter during this period - Voyagers 1 and 2, Galileo, Cassini - recorded radio waves that didn't match those produced by lightning on Earth.

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

In particular, the Microwave Radiometer Instrument, which can detect radio emissions in a wide range of frequencies.

The distribution pattern of lightning strikes on Jupiter is the exact opposite of the distribution pattern found on Earth.

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Juno is unraveling Jupiter's mysteries.

New observations from Juno prove Jupiter's lightning isn't as different from Earth's as scientists once thought, solving a 39-year mystery.

Lightning bolts on Jupiter are both similar and completely different from those on Earth, research suggests. "You can ask anybody who lives in the tropics - this doesn't hold true for our planet", says Brown. Jupiter's recorded lightning strikes are typically smaller than on Earth, but not all the time, with most bursts have a frequency of about 600 megahertz, but which have the potential to reach gigahertz levels like the bolts seen on Earth. Earth isn't the only planet in the solar system to have storms that produce lightning. At that distance, Jupiter receives 25 times less sunlight than Earth. The giant is, after all, five times farther away from the Sun than Earth. More frequent Jovian lightning at the poles indicates that water-laden gas in the atmosphere circulates towards the poles. The Sun's heat creates just enough stability in the upper atmosphere around Jupiter's equator to inhibit the rise of warm air, preventing lightning-bearing clouds from forming above the planet's equator.

On the Earth at the equator have more heat compared to the poles, so warm air rises by convection, which drives thunderstorms on Earth.

Brown said these findings could help scientists' understand how energy flows on Jupiter. But another question looms, she said. As Choi reports, scientists have speculated many reasons behind the difference, including variations in the atmosphere or even fundamental distinctions between how lightning forms. Researchers analysed more than 1,600 "whistlers"-emissions linked to the phenomena-captured by Juno in a Nature Astronomy paper also published Wednesday". The set of over 1,600 signals, was also produced with data gathered from Juno.

The team, making use of Juno's Waves plasma and radio wave detector, discovered over 1,600 instances of lightning with peak rates of four strikes per second, Gizmodo reported.

"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, Juno's principal investigator, said in the statement.

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