Jupiter lightning more Earth-like than previously thought

A 2017 file image from NASA shows the planet Jupiter when it was at a distance of about 415 million miles from Earth.  via AP File

But the state-of-the-art science equipment on board the spacecraft allowed it to capture unique data on Jupiter's lightning strikes, unraveling some of the mysteries that have been puzzling astronomers for nearly 40 years.

While "Jovian Lightning" had been theorized for centuries, it wasn't until 1979 that NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft flew by Jupiter and confirmed the gas giant experiences lightning.

Scientists believe Juno was able to pick up the megahertz signatures because its flyby put it closer to the lightning than any spacecraft before it. For nearly 40 years the question of the differences of lightning on the planets remained unsolved. In spite of the fact that, in some ways, the two kinds of lightning are polar opposites.

Previous recordings of Jupiter's lightning, dubbed whistlers thanks to their characteristic whistle-like sound, all seemed to fall in the kilohertz range of the radio spectrum.

In particular, the Microwave Radiometer Instrument, which can detect radio emissions in a wide range of frequencies.

After reaching there, Juno indulged in sending much essential information about Jupiter back to the Earth. Emissions were recorded in both the megahertz and gigahertz range, "which is what you can find with terrestrial lightning emissions", according to Brown. 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. Now the Juno orbiter has revealed a surprise: Those strikes are more similar to lightning strikes on Earth than previously thought. Notwithstanding explaining the enigma, the specialists found that the cause of Jupiter's lightning is altogether different from what we're utilized to without anyone else planet.

"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", says Brown.

But mysteries remain. Even though lightning has been detected near both of Jupiter's poles, scientists do not yet know why discharges are more frequent at northern latitudes.

The overwhelming majority of heat on Earth comes from the Sun.

Even so, that level of heating still warms the equatorial atmosphere more than the poles, just enough to stabilise the upper altitudes and prevent the rise of warm air that otherwise would trigger convection and storm development. Most of the Jupiter's heat is generated within the planet itself, NASA notes, and heats its equator more than the poles.

"This will help us better understand the composition, general circulation and energy transport on Jupiter". But another question looms, she said. Researchers analysed more than 1,600 "whistlers"-emissions linked to the phenomena-captured by Juno in a Nature Astronomy paper also published Wednesday". These signals have been collected by Juno's Waves instrument, is nearly 10 times more than the number collected by the shuttler Voyager 1. For one thing, Jupiter's lightning can strike at the same rate as lightning on Earth-Juno's more sensitive equipment picked up about six times more strikes than Voyager did, detecting up to four lightning strokes per second, reports Gizmodo.

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