A new paper that was recently published in the journal Nature shows how scientists used a probe from NASA’s spacecraft Juno to investigate how Jupiter’s mysterious lightning is being created. This revealed that the lightning strikes produced by the giant planet’s storms are very similar and at the same time completely different from the ones on Earth.
New answers are brought to the surface
Shannon Brown, the lead author of the work, explained that “until Juno, all the lightning signals recorded by spacecraft were limited to either visual detections or from the kilohertz range of the radio spectrum, despite a search for signals in the megahertz range.” She also stated that over the years, scientists have tried to come up with different theories to explain this, but no proper explanation was ever provided.
So what happened is that all the previous spacecraft that tried to analyze Jupiter’s lightning were unable to capture the type of radio signals that are produced by lightning on Earth. Until recently, no one was able to understand why this was happening. But now, due to the fact that Juno has managed to record what previous spacecraft couldn’t, we can finally get some long-awaited answers.
Nasa’ Juno can hear the signals other spacecraft missed
During Juno’s first eight flybys, as many as 377 lightning discharges were detected and recorded in both the megahertz and gigahertz range. Now this is exactly what you can find with lightning emissions from Earth and this is why such discovery is significant and exciting at the same time. According to Brown, what helped with this breakthrough is the fact that Juno is flying closer to the lightning than ever before, in contrast to previous missions that might have been too far to hear the signals.
Now that we have records of Jupiter’s flashes, scientists noted that this lightning is quite similar to our planet’s, except it’s not exactly the same. Apparently, the origin of Jupiter’s lightning is different from the one on Earth.
The researchers from NASA described the lightning distribution on the giant planet as being “inside out”, as opposed to how it is on Earth. This means that the lightning emerges at Jupiter’s poles and it’s not distributed throughout the surface, most likely due to the planet’s distance from the Sun. Therefore, the lightning is being produced in the much less stable air that is being pushed to the poles from the equator that still gets warmth from the Sun.