Scientists explain the origin of Jupiter lightning. 39 years old mystery is solved by NASA’s Juno mission. The Juno mission shows how Jupiter lighting is similar to Earth’s lightning. While, in some ways, the two types of lightning are polar opposites.
“No matter what planet you’re on, lightning bolts act like radio transmitters — sending out radio waves when they flash across a sky,” said Shannon Brown of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, a Juno scientist and lead author of the paper. “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.”
The new finding also unveils that these “lightning bolts flash on each planet is actually quite different”.
“Jupiter lightning distribution is inside out relative to Earth,” said Brown. “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.”
The largest planet of our solar system (Jupiter) receives 25 times less sunlight than Earth, because Jupiter’s orbit is five times farther from the Sun than Earth’s orbit. The poles, which do not have this upper-level warmth and therefore no atmospheric stability, allow warm gases from Jupiter’s interior to rise, and creating the ingredients for lightning.
“These findings could help to improve our understanding of the composition, circulation and energy flows on Jupiter,” said Brown. But another question looms, she said. “Even though we see lightning near both poles, why is it mostly recorded at Jupiter’s north pole?”