39-Year old whodunnit of Jupiter lightning solved by NASA


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NASA has been sky-high in its mission to scrape and delve into the celestial mysteries of Space. The origin of Jupiter’s lightning is one such mystery it has focused on, ever since its Voyager 1 spacecraft flew past Jupiter in March 1979.

That extraordinary encounter affirmed the existence of the theory of Nasa’s scientists of Jovian lighting. But when the spacecraft set past Jupiter, the data showed radio signals showing the lightning at Jupiter did not match the details of Earth’s lightning.

Scientists from NASA Juno mission took to a new paper in Juno outlay exactly how the lightning in Jupiter is a polar opposite to the lightning on Earth, yet interestingly enough, also analogous to it.

No matter what planet you’re on, lightning bolts act like radio transmitters — sending out radio waves when they flash across a sky. But until Juno, all the lightning signals recorded by spacecraft [Voyagers 1 and 2, Galileo, Cassini] were limited to either visual detections or from the kilohertz range of the radio spectrum, despite a search for signals in the megahertz range. Many theories were offered up to explain it, but no one theory could ever get traction as the answer. – Shannon Brown of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, a Juno mission scientist and lead author of the paper

Juno has been found to have been orbiting Jupiter since July 4, 2016, as per NASA reports. Nasa has put in one of its highly sensitive instruments called Microwave Radiometer Instrument (MWR), which records gas emissions from Juno, spanning a wide range of frequencies.

In the data from our first eight flybys, Juno’s MWR detected 377 lightning discharges. They were recorded in the megahertz as well as gigahertz range, which is what you can find with terrestrial lightning emissions. We think the reason we are the only ones who can see it is because Juno is flying closer to the lighting than ever before, and we are searching at a radio frequency that passes easily through Jupiter’s ionosphere. – Shannon Brown

This striking finding underlines how Jupiter’s lightning shares similarities with the lightning on Earth, however, Brown’s observations in his paper also reveals that the site of the striking of the lightning on these two planets is very different.

Jupiter lightning distribution is inside out relative to Earth. There is a lot of activity near Jupiter’s poles but none near the equator. You can ask anybody who lives in the tropics — this doesn’t hold true for our planet. – Shannon Brown

Lightning bolts concentrate near Earth’s equator and near the poles on Jupiter due to the heat welling up at its maximum on these places.

An external source of the heat on Earth is attributed to incoming solar radiation and the maximum heat is caught by the Equator, thereby through the process of the convention, the warm air rises more easily, spurring thunderstorms in more numbers than all other places on earth, that create the bolts of lightning.


Jupiter’s receives 25 times less sunlight than Earth, as its orbit is five times farther from the Sun than Earth’s. Although Jupiter gets its heat internally from within itself, solar radiation can’t be absolutely ruled out as insignificant as Jupiter’s equator maintains its heat through the sun rays, just like on Earth. And as per the NASA Scientists, this heating at Jupiter’s equator maintains the stability of heat levels in the upper atmosphere, restricting the rise of warm air from within. Devoid of this upper-atmosphere warmth, the poles do not have any atmosphere stability, which enables the warm gases from Jupiter’s interior to rise, causing convection and consequently, all the elements that induce lightning.

Brown said “These findings could help to improve our understanding of the composition, circulation and energy flows on Jupiter. Even though we see lightning near both poles, why is it mostly recorded at Jupiter’s north pole?”, A second Juno lightning paper has been published in Nature Astronomy by Ivana Kolmašová of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague propping up the largest data set of lightning-generated low-frequency radio emissions around Jupiter (whistlers) to date, with more than 1,600 signals. These signals have been collected by Juno’s Waves instrument, is almost 10 times more than the number collected by the shuttler Voyager 1. 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.

These discoveries could only happen with Juno. 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. Also, 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. Scott Bolton, the principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio

On July 16, NASA’s Juno spacecraft is all set to make its 13th science flyby over Jupiter’s cloud tops. In line with its tweet on its NASA Juno mission, NASA is taking long strides to keep its mission in place, and all we can say, as is posted in the tweet, “Just keep spinning, just keep spinning…”

Source: NASA

39-Year old whodunnit of Jupiter lightning solved by NASA