NASA’s New Discovery
NASA’s Juno spacecraft made the discovery that Jupiter lightning strikes are very similar to Earth’s.
A Huge Mystery Unveiled
NASA’s Juno probe was used to unveil this mystery, a mystery that bothered astronomers for up to four decades. The “Jovian Lightning” was theorized, however, it was not until 1979 that NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft flew by Jupiter to confirm that the planet does have lightning.
Jupiter’s Lightning Explained
Jupiter’s lightning strikes acts as a radio transmitter by blasting radio waves each time. Therefore, it appeared that Jupiter’s lightning was different than the lightning from thunderstorms on Earth. However, this theory has changed. A new paper published NASA’s Juno team found that Jupiter’s lightning is much more similar to Earth’s.
Before the Juno mission, the lightning signals were recorded as either visual detections or in the kilohertz range of the radio spectrum. However, However, Earth’s radio waves for lightning are in the megahertz range. Juno has been orbiting Jupiter since summer 2016 and every spacecraft before recorded the lightning on Jupiter in the Kilohertz range.
Juno picked up Jupiter’s lightning radio signals during its mission and the signals were in the megahertz range, similar to Earth’s. Juno made this new discovery due to being closer than ever before to the lightning.
Earth Versus Jupiter
However, that does not mean there aren’t still differences between the two planets. For instance, with Earth, the lightning storms are clustered in the tropical regions around the equator while Jupiter’s lightning is clustered in the polar regions. The location of the cluster is important, as the warm air allows moisture to rise through the atmosphere which fuels thunderstorms that produce Earth’s lightning.
Sun rays are important in Jupiter’s lightning process since that sun rays heat up Jupiter’s equator more than the poles. The heat from the sun creates stability in the upper atmosphere, around Jupiter’s equator, to prevent the rise of warm air. This process allows lightning-bearing clouds to form above Jupiter’s equator. The poles in Jupiter have a less stable atmosphere, as it is not warmed by the Sun. Therefore, warm gases rise and create what is necessary for Jupiter to produce lightning.
What This Means For NASA
Without Juno, these discoveries would not have been made. It is no surprise that after this mission, NASA decided to extend the Juno mission through July 2021 with the hopes of making even more discoveries of Space.