On Jupiter, lightning flashes from storms swirling at the poles | Science News

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Mystery Solved

On Jupiter, lightning flashes from storms swirling at the poles

The planet’s heat distribution explains why lightning doesn’t strike near the equator

By
12:00pm, June 19, 2018
lightning at Jupiter's pole

IN A FLASH  Unlike Earth lightning, which is most concentrated at the equator, Jupiter’s strikes at its poles, as shown in this artist’s rendition.

When Voyager 1 revealed lightning on Jupiter in 1979, something about the flashes didn’t make sense. From a distance, it seemed like the radio waves from the massive planet’s lightning bolts didn’t reach the high frequency emitted by lightning on Earth. 

But the Juno spacecraft, which has been orbiting much closer to Jupiter’s surface for the last two years, has helped solve the mystery. The radio waves emitted by the planet’s lightning are, in fact, in a similar frequency range as our lightning at home, mission scientists report in the June 6 Nature. Astronomers couldn’t detect anything but the lower frequencies, called “whistlers,” until now.

And while solving that mystery, the researchers discovered another twist: Jupiter’s lightning may have a similar frequency as Earth’s, but it is focused at the planet’s poles instead of

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