We have all seen lightning at some point on a stormy night. Earth isn’t the only planet in the solar system to have storms that produce lightning. Spacecraft that have flown by Jupiter over the decades have picked up indications of lightning on the planet. With Juno in orbit around Jupiter, more information about Jovian lightning has been gathered.
Researchers detected more than 1,600 instances of lightning on Jupiter gathered via a phenomenon called “whistlers.” A whistler is a radio emission generated by lightning that sounds like a descending, whistled tone first recorded by Voyager 1 as it passed Jupiter 40 years ago. Looking at the new Juno data, scientists found that the instance of lightning strikes on Jupiter are six times higher than what Voyager 1 had detected.
Scientists are now saying that lightning on Jupiter can be as frequent as it is on Earth. The surprising part about that is that despite the pronounced differences in the atmospheres of Jupiter and Earth, thunderstorms are similar. One researcher called that fact “astounding.”
Another interesting fact from the Juno data compared to the Voyager 1 data is that the radio waves from the lightning were in megahertz scale, that is thousands of times higher in frequency than previously seen. Data also showed that Jovian lightning is more common near the poles of the planet.
Lightning is absent on the equator of the planet. Lightning on Jupiter is believed to originate from electrical interactions between water droplets and ice particles, similar to how lightning happens on Earth. More frequent Jovian lightning at the poles indicates that water-laden gas in the atmosphere circulates towards the poles. Lighting is also more frequent in the northern hemisphere than the southern, something not yet explained.