NASA's Juno to Keep Spinning Around Jupiter Until 2021

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

An artist's impression of lightning bolts in the northern hemisphere of Jupiter.

Lightning on Jupiter has always been something of a mystery. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / JunoCam.

Study's lead author, Shannon Brown from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA, said that, "No matter what planet you're on, lightning bolts act like radio transmitters-sending out radio waves when they flash across a sky".

Until the evolution of the NASA's Juno Mission, all the lightning signals recorded earlier were limited to visual detections or the radio spectrum's kilohertz range. Obviously, this wouldn't have been possible without the probe taken by NASA's Juno. These sensitive instruments were helpful in recording the gas giant emissions.

But the radio signals slightly differed from what researchers have recorded on Earth, raising questions about the nature of lightning on Jupiter.

"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", she adds.

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NASA researchers just published a new paper in Nature that describes how they used data from the Juno probe to solve the mystery of Jupiter's unusual lightning, and it reveals that the planet's storms produce flashes that are both very similar and also completely different from lightning on Earth. This, in spite of Jupiter's equator playing host to the solar system's largest, most ferocious storm. "You can ask anybody who lives in the tropics - this doesn't hold true for our planet", says Brown. The sun still heats up Jupiter's equator more than it's poles, but scientists believe this minimal warming effect is just enough to stabilize its atmosphere and allow warm air to rise from within, creating the convection needed to produce lightning.

The gas giant's lightning storms appear to be concentrated near the planet's poles with very little electrical activity near the equatorial belt. It brought to light many new facts associated with the huge gas world including- the red spot's depth, the 3D imagery of gas underneath the surface of the planet, and the functionality of Jupiter's auroras. "Even though we see lightning near both poles, why is it mostly recorded at Jupiter's north pole?" At the poles, that upper level warmth is not present, allowing warm air from the interior to rise, driving the convection that generates lightning.

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

Meanwhile, a second study also published in Nature examined the nature of the lightning from Jupiter further.

In addition, the Waves data uncovered peak rates of four lightning strikes per second - six times higher than the values recorded by Voyager 1 - which prove Jovian lightning has similar rates to those observed in terrestrial thunderstorms.

"This is great news for planetary exploration as well as for the Juno team", Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton, from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in the same statement.