Published: Sat, June 09, 2018
Sci-tech | By Brandy Patterson

NASA to Extend Juno Jupiter's Mission by Three Years

NASA to Extend Juno Jupiter's Mission by Three Years

The origin of Jupiter's lightning is one such mystery it has focused on, ever since its Voyager 1 spacecraft flew past Jupiter in March 1979.

According to the reports received lately, the mission of the Juno spacecraft would be getting further extended up to the year 2021.

But the radio signals slightly differed from what researchers have recorded on Earth, raising questions about the nature of lightning on Jupiter. NASA's Juno spacecraft has found Jovian lightning produces the same sort of radio emissions as those on Earth, but they only seem to occur at the poles. The spacecraft's Microwave Radiometer, aka MWR instrument, detected as many as 377 lightning discharges during its orbit and found signs of the radio waves that had been undetected until now. But lightning on Earth booms in the mega or even gigahertz range.

They do provide some warmth, heating up Jupiter's equator more than the poles - just as they heat up Earth. However, the scientists noted that the lightning that occurs on Jupiter is entirely different from the one experienced on our Earth. And the results came as a bit of a surprise.

"But until Juno, all the lightning signals recorded by several NASA spacecraft were limited to either visual detections or from the kilohertz range of the radio spectrum, despite a search for signals in the megahertz range".

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"We think the reason we are the only ones who can see it is because Juno is flying closer to the lighting than ever before, and we are searching at a radio frequency that passes easily through Jupiter's ionosphere", she added. They published their findings this week in the journal Nature. This could have interfered with the signals. Juno, on the other hand, buzzed by the gas giant some 50 times closer than Voyager 1.

To learn more about the Jupiter's lightning storms and how they form and behave in the solar system's giant gaseous planet, the researchers have recently chose to gather all the data on storms on Jupiter sent by NASA's Juno probe which is still circling around the giant planet.

"That distribution of lightning is kind of upside-down from what we'd expect on Earth", he said.

Jupiter's orbit is five times more remote from the Sun than Earth's orbit, which implies that the giant planet gets 25 times less sunlight than Earth. This, in spite of Jupiter's equator playing host to the solar system's largest, most ferocious storm.

But on Earth, these blazing bolts cling to the equator. Previous studies suggested the lightning-associated radio signals didn't match the details of the radio signals produced by lightning here at Earth.

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So why are things flip-flopped? The gas giant is much farther from the Sun and its poles aren't getting warmed, therefore having a less stable atmosphere. On our planet, lightning storms are clustered in the tropical regions around the equator. The poles, however, have no such stability.

"As we complete the remainder of the orbits in the mission, we'll get a clearer and clearer picture of the distribution of lightning, which maps out moist convective activity on the planet".

An artist's impression of lightning bolts in the northern hemisphere of Jupiter. Though researchers aren't yet sure why, answers may soon be coming.

The findings of NASA's Juno Mission scientists was supported by the team from Czech Academy of Sciences.

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