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NASA: Jupiter Lightning Mystery Solved by Juno Probe

NASA: Jupiter Lightning Mystery Solved by Juno Probe

Jupiter's northern hemisphere incorporates a Juno image with artistic embellishments. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/JunoCam)

By    |   Friday, 08 June 2018 08:53 AM

NASA reported Wednesday that Jupiter's lightning mystery may have been solved by its Juno space probe that has been orbiting and mapping the largest planet in the solar system.

Scientists believe, according to a new paper published in the journal Nature, that Jupiter's lightning is somewhat like lightning on Earth, but in some ways opposite by location, according to the space agency.

"No matter what planet you're on, lightning bolts act like radio transmitters -- sending out radio waves when they flash across a sky," Shannon Brown, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and lead author of the Nature study, said in the space agency's statement.

"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," Brown continued.

Brown said in the NASA statement that data from Juno, which has been orbiting Jupiter for nearly two years, through its Microwave Radiometer Instrument, detected 377 lightning discharges over eight flybys.

While Jupiter's lightning appeared similar to Earth's, the Nature study also pointed out that the lightning bolts flash on each planet are actually quite different, occurring near the huge planet's north and south poles, Brown said in the NASA statement.

"Jupiter lightning distribution is inside out relative to Earth," Brown said, per the space agency. "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."

Scientists said that Jupiter, which received 25 times less sunshine than Earth, provides just enough warmth at its equator to create stability in the upper atmosphere, inhibiting the rise of warm air from within, according to NASA.

Jupiter's poles, which do not have this upper-level warmth and therefore no atmospheric stability, allow warm gases from Jupiter's interior to rise, driving convection and creating the conditions ripe for lightning," NASA said.

"These findings could help to improve our understanding of the composition, circulation and energy flows on Jupiter," Brown said in the NASA statement.

NASA hopes to gather additional information with the recent announcement that Juno's mission has been extended to 2021 so it can continue orbiting and mapping Jupiter. The probe was expected to plunge into Jupiter's atmosphere to end its mission this year.

The space agency said that unexpected problems with Juno's propulsion system slowed the spaceship where it had made only 14 of 32 planned close passes to the planet so far.

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Jupiter's lightning mystery may have been solve by NASA's June space probe that has been orbiting and mapping the largest planet in the solar system, the space agency said.
nasa, jupiter, lightning, juno
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2018-53-08
Friday, 08 June 2018 08:53 AM
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