NASA just announced that the Juno spacecraft has once again observed lightning “Superbolts” in Jupiter’s atmosphere. And while the observation of lightning on the planet jumbo is not new, this last observation may help to answer some big questions. Big questions like: Why is there such an interesting distribution of ammonia in the atmosphere of the gas giant?
In an announcement coming through Scientific news, NASA outlined recent observations of Jovian lightning, which were collected by Juno. Juno is a NASA space probe orbiting Jupiter, collecting data and images that emit jaws like these.
“Juno’s narrow flights from the tops of the clouds allowed us to see something surprising ̵1; smaller, shallow flashes [of lightning] “originating from much higher altitudes in Jupiter’s atmosphere than previously thought possible,” said Heidi Becker, Juno Radiation Investigation Leader at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Becker was the lead author of a recent study based on Juno published in nature.
For these lightning superfluids – which are up to 1,000 times more powerful than lightning to occur at those higher altitudes – there must be some way to keep the water in its liquid state. And this is where ammonia, a component of nitrogen and hydrogen, enters the figure.
Unlike Earth’s water-driven Earth system, Jupiter is run by both water and ammonia. Due to all the ammonia in Jupiter’s atmosphere, water can reach much higher altitudes before freezing. This, in turn, allows the formation of high altitude overlaps, despite ambient temperatures of -126 ° F.
“At these altitudes, ammonia acts as an antifreeze, lowering the melting point of water ice and allowing the formation of a cloud of aqueous ammonia liquid,” Becker said in a NASA announcement. “In this new state, the droplets of ammonia water liquid can collide with continuous water ice crystals and electrify the clouds,” she added.
But this theory does not just explain how superbolts are formed. He also explains why Juno has discovered “lost ammonia pockets” in Jupiter’s atmosphere. This is because Becker and her colleagues theorize that hail develops at the same high altitudes as superbolts, and then falls back to depths in the lower atmosphere. Ammonia, on the other hand, is caught in hail – described as “Windex snow cones” by Becker – where it is rendered invisible to Juno sensors.
NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / CNRS
“[L]”Jupiter’s abandonment is not happening the way it is on Earth,” Becker said in the video above. She adds that this kind of lightning “is very exotic and very different from what we have here on Earth and this is what is most exciting to me”.
What do you think of these lightning superbolts in Jupiter’s atmosphere? And why does “Windex snow cone” sound like it could be a real thing in 2020? Electrify us with your thoughts in the comments, people!
Feature Image: Paul Anglada