NASA's Juno orbiter mission to Jupiter has been thrown a lifeline with the space agency approving a 41-month extension.
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. 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.
Astronomers reveal most exclusive findings about Jupiter, a huge, twirling mass of transcending storm mists, and any individual who lives on Earth realizes that tempests are fabulous at delivering lightning.
Meanwhile, a second study also published in Nature examined the nature of the lightning from Jupiter further. Once it reached close to the Jupiter, the Juno made the use of an array of highly sensitive instruments it carried. The dataset of in excess of 1,600 signs, gathered by Juno's Waves instrument, is right around 10 times the number recorded by Voyager 1. With additional funding through fiscal year 2022, the unmanned spacecraft will have additional time to complete its primary science observations of the gas giant and its magnetic field, with the extra time required due to the spacecraft taking longer than planned orbits.
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".
This surprising discovery shows us that Jupiter's lightning strikes are actually similar to our planet's. The bolts were recorded both in the megahertz as well as gigahertz ranges, which is similar to the lightning that is found on Earth, says Brown. Analysis of the radio spectrum indicated that one source of these transmissions were lightning bolts arcing through the Jovian atmosphere, a billion times more powerful than those on Earth. By that point, radiation damage to the craft is expected to be severe and it will be ordered to make a controlled entry into the Jovian atmosphere, where it will burn up. "Even though we see lightning near both poles, why is it mostly recorded at Jupiter's north pole?" This, in spite of Jupiter's equator playing host to the solar system's largest, most ferocious storm.
Kurth also chimed in on the matter, explaining the main difference between lighting strikes on the two planets. "On Earth, thunderstorms tend to cluster around low latitudes, and on Jupiter, it's the other way around". Warm and moist air rises to the top freely and fuels lightning storms, notes the report.
Artist's concept of lightning in Jupiter's northern hemisphere.
"These findings could help to improve our understanding of the composition, circulation and energy flows on Jupiter", said Brown. However, the team explains, that tiny quantity of heat it does receive from the Sun does heat up its equator more than the poles. The sun's rays that warm our own planet hit the equator first, and it is the warm, humid air rising at this band that drives its lightning.
Jupiter's poles, which aren't warmed by the Sun, have a less stable atmosphere, according to NASA, which allows warm gases to rise and create the recipe needed to produce lightning.