Scientists just discovered something very special about Jupiter’s lightning

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

That extraordinary encounter affirmed the existence of the theory of Nasa's scientists of Jovian lighting. But when the venerable explorer hurtled by, the data showed that the lightning-associated radio signals didn't match the details of the radio signals produced by lightning here at Earth.

This provides for an additional 41 months in orbit around Jupiter and will enable Juno to achieve its primary science objectives.Juno is in 53-day orbits rather than 14-day orbits as initially planned because of a concern about valves on the spacecraft's fuel system. Although, in some ways, the two types of lightning are polar opposites.

Brown explained how all the previous probes - Voyagers 1 and 2, Galileo and even Cassini recorded lightning signals, but they 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 said of the problem.

The research examined how often the Juno spacecraft detected lightning on Jupiter and found out that the probe's Waves plasma and radio wave detector recorded more than 1,600 "whistlers".

The Juno data also has shed light on why lightning tends to occur only at high latitudes on Jupiter while they are common in the equatorial tropics on Earth.

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The first time you approach the planet, the spacecraft has recorded 377 of the lightning discharges, such as those that occur on Earth.

Lightning bolts on Jupiter are both similar and completely different from those on Earth, research suggests. Jupiter's recorded lightning strikes are typically smaller than on Earth, but not all the time, with most bursts have a frequency of about 600 megahertz, but which have the potential to reach gigahertz levels like the bolts seen on Earth. And unlike Earth, the majority of its heat is derived from within. As we have mentioned before, lightning storms on our planet are gathering around the equator, in the tropical regions, due to the moisture that is rising through the atmosphere. The giant is, after all, five times farther away from the Sun than Earth. Most of the Jupiter's heat is generated within the planet itself, NASA notes, and heats its equator more than the poles.

Scientists believe that this heating at Jupiter's equator is just enough to create stability in the upper atmosphere, inhibiting the rise of warm air from within.

The poles don't experience this stabilising radiation, so warm gases from the planet's interior can rise to the upper atmosphere.

Brown said "These findings could help to improve our understanding of the composition, circulation and energy flows on Jupiter". But another question looms. Researchers analysed more than 1,600 "whistlers"-emissions linked to the phenomena-captured by Juno in a Nature Astronomy paper also published Wednesday". That's 10 times more than the number of signals picked up by 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. When lightning strikes, it acts like a radio transmitter, blasting radio waves with each strike, according to NASA.

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