Jupiter Lightning Storms Are More Similar To Earth's Than Previously Thought

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While the scientists found many similarities with the lightning strikes to our own, there were also notable differences.

From the Juno data, researchers detected radio waves that were of much higher frequency and much closer in frequency to Earth's.

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. NASA's Juno spacecraft has found Jovian lightning produces the same sort of radio emissions as those on Earth, but they only seem to occur at the poles.

There also seems to be more lightning in Jupiter's northern hemisphere compared to its southern side.

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.

"There is a lot of activity near Jupiter's poles but none near the equator. Many theories were offered up to explain it, but no one theory could ever get traction as the answer". Unlike on Earth, lightning on Jupiter only seems to occur at high latitudes and is concentrated exclusively around the planet's poles. 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.

According to Brown, Juno picked up radio signals from Jupiter's lightning in the megahertz range experienced on Earth. 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.

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The information suggests Jupiter's lightning might be connected to the planet's source of heat. Because of Jupiter's distance from the sun, it sees 25 times less sunlight than Earth.

What this means is that as the hot, moist air rises from deep in the Jovian atmosphere, it meets a cap of warm air in the tropical regions of Jupiter. Well, long before we had Juno orbiting Jupiter, scientists were able to record the lightning on this planet only within the kilohertz range. Its mission managers initially wanted to destroy the orbiter by plunging it into Jupiter's clouds sometime after it concludes its mission in July.

The spacecraft is studying Jupiter's gravitational and magnetic fields as well as its thick atmosphere, collecting data that should reveal key insights about how the gas giant formed and evolved. This rate and amount is six times more lightning than Voyager observed.

"This will help us better understand the composition, general circulation and energy transport on Jupiter".

The $1.1 billion Juno mission has been extended through at least July 2021, NASA officials announced yesterday (June 6).

The decision to fund the Juno mission through fiscal year 2022 was made after an "independent panel of experts" ruled that it was on track to "achieve its science objectives and is already returning spectacular results".

"These discoveries could only happen with Juno", Scott Bolton, another author on the paper said.