Jupiter’s Mysterious Lightning - New Discoveries Have Been Made

Surprise! Jupiter's Lightning Looks a Lot Like Earth's

This longer orbit means the Juno probe requires more time to collect the amount of data NASA aimed to acquire and process.

When Voyager 1 flew past the planet in 1979, it collected data showing mysterious lightning-associated radio signals completely different to the signals produced by lightning on Earth.

Some of Juno's accomplishments include offering humanity's first up-close view of Jupiter's Great Red Spot, stating that the planet's atmosphere has features unlike anything else encountered in the solar system, and that the Great Red Spot storm has been shrinking for years but that as it shrinks it grows taller. The spacecraft's Microwave Radiometer, aka MWR instrument, detected as many as 377 lightning discharges during its orbit and found signs of the radio waves that had been undetected until now.

NASA's Juno mission has been studying Jupiter in unprecedented detail, and sending home all-new discoveries and breathtaking photos of the giant gas planet since 2016.

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.

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"Many theories were offered up to explain it, but no one theory could ever get traction as the answer", Brown said of the problem. Emissions were recorded in both the megahertz and gigahertz range, "which is what you can find with terrestrial lightning emissions", according to Brown.

Recently the NASA's Juno mission scientists establish a resemblance between the Jupiter's storm and the one that occurs on the Earth.

NASA's Juno spacecraft gets an extension to orbit Jupiter for the next three years. 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. Analysis of the radio spectrum indicated that one source of these transmissions were lightning bolts arcing through the Jovian atmosphere, a billion times more powerful than those on Earth. However, the team explains, that tiny quantity of heat it does receive from the Sun does heat up its equator more than the poles. While lightning on Earth is more frequent around the equator, the gas giant's lightning can be observed in its polar regions. Because our equator bears the brunt of this sunshine, warm moist air rises (through convection) more freely there, which fuels towering thunderstorms that produce lightning.

The poles don't experience this stabilising radiation, so warm gases from the planet's interior can rise to the upper atmosphere. But another question looms, she said. Unlike on Earth, lightning on Jupiter only seems to occur at high latitudes and is concentrated exclusively around the planet's poles. 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.

"NASA has approved Juno to continue through 2022 to finish all of our originally planned science", Scott Bolton, Juno's principle investigator from the Southwest Research Institute, told Gizmodo. "Our unique orbit allows our spacecraft to fly closer to Jupiter than any other spacecraft in history". 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.


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