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Juno captures lightning bolts above Jupiter's north pole
NASA's Juno spacecraft captures an awe-inspiring bolt of lightning near Jupiter's north pole during its 31st close flyby, providing a vivid glimpse into the planet's turbulent atmospheric conditions.
Juno captures lightning bolts above Jupiter's north pole
by Simon Mansfield
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Jun 18, 2023

In the realm of outer space, Jupiter's lightning continues to intrigue scientists and NASA's Juno mission is at the forefront of this exploration. The spacecraft recently recorded an illuminating bolt of lightning in a vortex near Jupiter's north pole, lending further insight into the atmospheric phenomena of the largest planet in our solar system.

Much like Earth's lightning bolts that stem from water clouds, most frequently near the equator, the tempestuous weather of Jupiter also spawns lightning. However, the Jovian lightning doesn't solely originate from water clouds, but rather from clouds comprising an ammonia-water solution, with a majority of these electrical storms happening near its poles.

The Juno mission will continue to orbit closer to Jupiter in the upcoming months, flying over the planet's night side. These maneuvers promise to offer a bounty of opportunities for the spacecraft's suite of science instruments to capture additional lightning displays, thus deepening our understanding of the atmospheric conditions and patterns on Jupiter.

The image of Jupiter's lightning was captured as Juno finished its 31st close flyby of the gas giant on December 30, 2020. The raw image was processed in 2022 by Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill, using data sourced from the JunoCam instrument aboard the spacecraft. When the raw image was initially taken, Juno was approximately 19,900 miles (32,000 kilometers) above Jupiter's cloud tops and was approaching the planet at a latitude of about 78 degrees.

The image captured by Juno is not just a remarkable snapshot, but a valuable piece of data for the scientists studying Jupiter's complex atmospheric dynamics. Observing lightning on Jupiter can give important insights into the atmospheric conditions that are conducive to these electric discharges, such as the degree of turbulence, the distribution of water and ammonia, and the thermal structure of the planet's atmosphere.

One of the intriguing facets of these Jovian lightning bolts is their polar concentration, a significant departure from the Earth's equatorial prevalence of such phenomena. While on Earth, warm air from the equator rises and creates thunderstorms that produce lightning, the reason for Jupiter's polar lightning is still a matter of ongoing research.

NASA's Juno mission has been exploring Jupiter since 2016, providing invaluable data on the gas giant's magnetic field, gravity, and atmospheric dynamics. As Juno continues to make close flybys in the coming months, scientists are hopeful that the spacecraft will not only provide more eye-catching images, but also crucial data to help unravel the mysteries of Jupiter's violent weather. These efforts also broaden our understanding of the wide range of atmospheric behaviors among the planets in our solar system.

Related Links
Juno at SwRI
Juno at NASA
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