Lightning storms on Jupiter follow Earth-like events

Like other worlds, if water vapor and convection processes exist, their electrical storms will resemble ours. That’s one of the conclusions drawn from a paper published this Tuesday by Ivana Kolmášová of the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences in Prague and her team. in the magazine Communications of nature.

The Czech researcher who already discovered the similarity between the storms on Jupiter and the Earth A 2018 studyanalyzed high-resolution data obtained over five years by the radio receiver Juno space probe, which is in a polar orbit around the giant planet. And what you saw this time is that the radio pulses produced by the lightning discharge on Jupiter are produced with a time separation of about one millisecond, indicating the characteristics of a lightning initiation, similar to a thunderstorm on Earth.

In other words, a lightning strike on Jupiter can be compared to a lightning strike through clouds in the Earth’s atmosphere. “We analyzed the properties of electromagnetic pulses recorded over five years and compared them with the characteristics of repetitive signals emitted by terrestrial lightning,” Kolmashova explains to “And we found strong evidence that the process of evolution of the discharge may be very similar in the atmospheres of both planets.”

The process of evolution of discharge may be very similar in the atmosphere of both planets.

Ivana Kolmashova
Prague Institute of Atmospheric Sciences

In particular, the authors emphasize the similarity of the intervals of the repeating radio wave signals of the Jovan rays with the rays of the Earth. “Measurements with sub-millisecond resolution allow us to assume that transitions of similar lengths occur in Jovian thunderstorms after lightning initiation, as is commonly observed during lightning initiation processes on Earth,” says Kolmashova.

Like drops on a glass

Francisco Gordillo, an IAA-CSIC researcher who specializes in electrical activity in planetary atmospheres, believes that this is a very interesting result, because it provides evidence that Jupiter’s rays spread along paths, as it does here. To understand this, he suggests imagining the ionization process of the atmosphere as if the plasma filaments were water droplets on a glass. “A lot of times it happens that the water drops from above because a few of them coalesce,” he says. “When one drop meets another, it takes a ‘step’ and from there a random path is formed,” which will be the final discharge.

“Most of all, the paper provides new information on the mechanisms that can produce lightning on Jupiter, showing that it is similar to Earth,” adds Peio Inurigaro, a member of the team of space and atmospheric physics researchers. from Imperial College London who studied Jupiter’s atmosphere in detail. For Alejandro Luque, group researcher IAA plasma in planetary atmospheres (TRAPPA), one of the most relevant conclusions is “that the processes are not exclusive to the gaseous composition of the Earth and that their production requires more than oxygen and nitrogen”.

expected similarity

According to Luecke, this similarity was somewhat expected because storms occur at similar pressures, even though Jupiter is entirely gaseous and has such a different composition. “In the area where these storms occur, water clouds form, just like on Earth, so you would expect there to be quite a few similarities,” he says.

Many space missions that have visited Jupiter have discovered the presence of lightning on the planet, Inurigaro points out, noting that earlier probes Voyager 1 and 2, Galileo and Cassini have collected less definitive data. “However, little is known about the possible mechanisms of their formation, and traditionally it has always been assumed that the mechanism operating on Jupiter may be Earth-like, requiring the presence of water in both solid and liquid states.”

On Jupiter we have clouds of water vapor and crystals form, so the clouds are electrically charged just like here.

Ignacio Gordillo

The key point for Gordillo is that the physics of clouds is the same throughout the universe, and similar conditions are met, even if it is in an atmosphere rich in hydrogen and helium. “It is true that the atmosphere of Jupiter is very different from that of our world; What happens is that on Jupiter we have clouds of water vapor and crystals form, so the clouds are electrically charged just like here.” The difference, apart from the size of the rays, which are kilometers in Jupiter, is that there is no land in the gas giant, although the area where the pressure of 1 bar (one atmosphere) is taken as a reference. that rays only appear between clouds.

As for the origin of storms, in both cases it is heat, although on our planet it is due to the influence of the sun, and on Jupiter it is due to internal heat. “That’s why most storms on Earth occur in tropical areas, and Jupiter in polar areas,” says the specialist. This is part of what was already seen in the first analysis of Juno data, in which low-frequency radio emissions (called quick whistles, Spanish for “quick whistles”) from lightning on Jupiter that displayed the “shot” speed observed during electrical storms on Earth.

“In our previous study, we saw signals associated with lightning that were not known before and were essentially different from the signals recorded by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1979,” Kolmashova details. “We found that the frequency of lightning on Jupiter is very similar to that observed on Earth, but the distribution of lightning on Jupiter is different, as most Jovian lightning occurs in the mid-latitudes and also in the polar regions.

This meant that the conditions for the formation of thunderstorms on Jupiter and Earth were probably very different, but this new result shows us again where they are the same, which partly explains why when we see a sequence of flashes on Jupiter’s atmosphere we think of storms. which astronauts see when they fly around the Earth. “His brilliance has been photographed many times outside,” says Gordillo. “They are little points of light in Jupiter’s night; It turned out that they are stronger and 100 times more energetic.”

This type of discharge has not been observed on other bodies, such as Venus or Titan, with equally different atmospheres, precisely because of the absence of large amounts of water vapor. “This does not mean that there are other atmospheres with other types of clouds that can cause electrification,” cautions Gordillo. But it is Jupiter’s water clouds sandwiched between large masses of ammonia and ammonium hydrosulfide clouds that make its storms so similar to ours. And at this point, of course, it’s very possible that there are hundreds of exoplanets with water vapor clouds that have similar discharges. And great rays cross their sky as they cross our sky.

Source: El Diario





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