NASA to Extend Juno Jupiter's Mission by Three Years

6_7_Jupiter lightning

Lightning at Jupiter is just like Earth's. Except where it's not

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. "They were recorded in the megahertz as well as gigahertz range, which is what you can find with terrestrial lightning emissions", Brown explains. The spacecraft will continue to orbit the planet till the early 2020s and is set to begin its 13th flyby of Jovian cloud tops next month.

When NASA's Voyager 1 probe first recorded Jupiter's lightning strikes in 1979, the radio signals produced by the bolts failed to match the signatures created by Earth's lightning.

"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".

NASA's Juno spacecraft gets an extension to orbit Jupiter for the next three years.

"Jupiter lightning distribution is inside out relative to Earth", said said Shannon Brown, lead author of the paper and a Juno scientist.

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

We've known that Jupiter has lightning for almost 40 years, after the first probes went out there. 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. "Many theories were offered up to explain it, but no one theory could ever get traction as the answer".

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They do provide some warmth, heating up Jupiter's equator more than the poles - just as they heat up Earth.

Why do lightning bolts congregate near the equator on Earth and near the poles on Jupiter? The signals were showing up in the kilohertz band of the electromagnetic spectrum, but not the megahertz range as is the case with Earth lightning. It took nearly five years to reach Jupiter after a roundabout route that sent it on a flyby of Earth in 2013 to build up speed to match orbits with Jupiter. 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. 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. The reason behind this, the team believes, is how heat is distributed across the two planets.

The findings indicate that the nature of Jupiter and Earth lightning may not be so different after all.

Jupiter, on the other hand, sits much further away from our star and receives far less sunlight.

"These findings could help to improve our understanding of the composition, circulation and energy flows on Jupiter", says Brown. As Jupiter produces lightning through electrical reactions between ice and water droplets, the lightning's location suggests that the water-filled gas in the atmosphere circulates toward the poles.

According to NASA, an independent panel of experts reviewed the mission and in April confirmed that Juno's instruments are in good condition and can still meet all of its objectives if given time.

"To really understand Jupiter, you need to map it", said Scott Bolton, principal investigator and associate vice president at the Southwest Research Institute.

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