Is Jupiter's lightning different from Earth's? Answer is in clouds

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This artists concept of lightning distribution in Jupiters northern hemisphere incorporates a JunoCam image from the NASA spacecraft Juno with artistic embellishments. — Reuters/File
This artist's concept of lightning distribution in Jupiter's northern hemisphere incorporates a JunoCam image from the NASA spacecraft Juno with artistic embellishments. — Reuters/File

Nasa’s Juno spacecraft has detected similarities between the lightning on Jupiter and Earth despite huge differences in the chemical compositions of the atmospheres of both planets, reported Reuters.

Below the brownish ammonia clouds that have covered our solar system's most giant planet are the clouds made of water, just like the Earth.

As lightning is often generated within these clouds, similar activity also takes place on Jupiter which was captured by various space probes including Juno.

Our world is a small rocky planet whereas Jupiter — named after the ancient mythological Roman god who could fling lightning bolts  — is a gas giant so enormous that all the other planets in our solar system could easily fit inside it including more than 1,300 Earths.

Researchers while studying five years of high-resolution data collected by Juno spacecraft — which orbits Jupiter — the planet's lightning initiation processes pulsate with a similar rhythm to that observed inside clouds on our planet.

This illustration depicts NASA’s Juno spacecraft soaring over Jupiter’s south pole. — Nasa/File
This illustration depicts NASA’s Juno spacecraft soaring over Jupiter’s south pole. — Nasa/File

In the study published this week in the journal Nature Communications, scientists noted that the pulses seen on Jupiter are flashes of lightning that spark with time separations of about a millisecond, similar to thunderstorms on Earth.

On Earth, lightning is the most powerful naturally occurring electrical source.

Planetary scientist Ivana Kolmasova of the Czech Academy of Sciences' Institute of Atmospheric Physics in Prague, and the lead author of the study, said: "Lightning is an electric discharge which is initiated inside thunderclouds. The ice and water particles inside the cloud get charged by collisions and form layers of particles with the charge of the same polarity."

"By this process, a huge electric field is established and the discharge can be initiated. This explanation is somewhat simplified because scientists are still not completely sure what is exactly happening inside thunderclouds," Kolmasova added.

Lightning on Jupiter was confirmed when telltale radio emissions at audible frequencies were recorded in 1979 by NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft as it ventured through the solar system.

The solar system's other gas-dominated planets — Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — were also witnessed to have lightning.

Other studies have detailed other similarities in the lightning processes on Jupiter and Earth. For instance, lightning rates on the two planets are similar though the distribution of lightning on Jupiter differs from Earth.

Displayed as a proper sphere, Jupiter shines like a jewel in the night, a giant pillar of colour and power that towers above everything in the solar system besides the sun itself. — Nasa/File
Displayed as a proper sphere, Jupiter shines like a jewel in the night, a giant pillar of colour and power that towers above everything in the solar system besides the sun itself. — Nasa/File

"On Earth, the tropical regions are the most active ones. The majority of Jovian lightning occurs in mid-latitudes and also in polar regions. We have nearly no lightning activity close to the poles on the Earth. It means that conditions for the formation of Jovian and terrestrial thunderclouds are probably very different," Kolmasova said.

"There were some attempts to compare the power of lightning based on optical measurements and it was concluded that lightning on Jupiter might be comparable with the strongest terrestrial lightning," Kolmasova added while noting that "more analysis is planned".

Jupiter is made up of hydrogen and helium, with other gases. Stripes and a few storms dominate the colourful appearance of Jupiter, the fifth planet from the sun with a diameter of about 88,850 miles (143,000 km).

Juno has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016, obtaining information about its atmosphere, interior structure, internal magnetic field and the region around it created by its internal magnetism.