Saturday, 18 August, 2018

Lightning Strikes on Jupiter Differ From Ours in One Way

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 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
Cary Marshall | 09 June, 2018, 11:59

This longer orbit means the Juno probe requires more time to collect the amount of data NASA aimed to acquire and process.

In a pair of studies published on June 6, scientists from the Juno mission describe the radio emissions coming from Jovian lightning - dubbed "whistlers" on account of their descending whistling pitch, which sounds a lot like a falling bomb - as well as the novel frequencies at which they were picked up by the spacecraft still in orbit around the gas giant.

However, all of that changed completely when Juno, NASA's latest mission to understand the turbulent environment of Jupiter, completed eight close flybys of the gassy planet. In some ways, it is actually the polar opposite.

Juno has been returning stunning close-up pictures of Jupiter since the probe first arrived at the doorstep of the gassy planet on July 4, 2016, Gizmodo reported. These sensitive instruments were helpful in recording the gas giant emissions.

The other study, published in the journal Nature, unveiled that lighting on Jupiter produces not only kilohertz emissions, the singular radio range detected by Voyager 1 almost four decades ago, but also gigahertz radio waves, just like lightning on Earth.

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On Earth, radio waves associated with lightning are in the megahertz range. In the release, Brown explains a possible reason behind the discrepancy: "We think the reason we are the only ones who can see it is because Juno is flying closer to the lighting than ever before, and we are searching at a radio frequency that passes easily through Jupiter's ionosphere". "Underneath its dense cloud cover, Jupiter safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our solar system during its formation", NASA says on its website of the Juno mission. The lightning originates at Jupiter's poles, rather than distributed across its surface, and the researchers attribute that to Jupiter's distance from the Sun.

Co-author of the study William Kurth, a University of Iowa space scientist, calls the similarities between thunderstorms of Jupiter and Earth "astounding", particularly since the two planets have very different atmospheres.

Jupiter, on the other hand, sits much further away from our star and receives far less sunlight. On Jupiter, these bolts of lightning flash frequently across the giant's poles, but never over the equator. At the equator, it's just warm enough that warm gas doesn't rise, but at the poles the gusts are lifted, driving convection to create lightning. That's because warm air allows moisture to rise more freely through the atmosphere, fueling the thunderstorms that produce lightning, according to NASA. But another question looms, she said. "Even though we see lightning near both poles, why is it mostly recorded at Jupiter's north pole?"

The presence of the Jovian lightning on Jupiter was confirmed when the same was recorded by Voyager 1 in the year 1979. The set of over 1,600 signals, was also produced with data gathered from Juno. "Our unique orbit allows our spacecraft to fly closer to Jupiter than any other spacecraft in history, so the signal strength of what the planet is radiating out is a thousand times stronger".

"Also, our microwave and plasma wave instruments are state-of-the-art, allowing us to pick out even weak lightning signals from the cacophony of radio emissions from Jupiter".

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