Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Generation of lightning in Jupiter's water cloud


LIGHTNING is a familiar feature of storms on the Earth, and has also been seen on Jupiter1–3 and inferred indirectly to occur on Venus and Neptune4,5. On Jupiter, lightning may be important as a source of energy to drive chemical reactions in the atmosphere, perhaps determining the abundances of molecules such as CO, HCN and C2H2 (ref. 6). Lightning may be generated in Jupiter's water clouds by a mechanism similar to that which operates in terrestrial thunderstorms7–9. Here we investigate the development of lightning by modelling the thunderstorm separation of electrical charge on precipitating ice particles at varying depths in Jupiter's atmosphere. We find that lightning can indeed be generated in the jovian water clouds, and that—in agreement with estimates from the analysis of Voyager images10—it is most likely to occur at the 3- or 4-bar pressure level. Our model also predicts that a condensed-water abundance in the range of at least 1-2 g m–3 is required for lightning to occur in jovian thunderstorms—a prediction that may be tested when the Galileo probe arrives at Jupiter on 7 December 1995.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. Cook, A. F., Duxbury, T. C. & Hunt, G. E. Nature 280, 794 (1979).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  2. Smith, B. A. et al. Science 204, 951–972 (1979).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Scarf, F. L., Gurnett, D. A. & Kurth, W. S. Science 204, 991–995 (1979).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Rinnert, K. J. geophys. Res. 90, 6225–6237 (1985).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Russell, C. T. A. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 21, 43–87 (1993).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Podolak, M. & Bar-Nun, A. Icarus 75, 566–570 (1988).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Borucki, W. J. & Magalhães, J. A. lcarus 96, 1–14 (1992).

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  8. Levin, Z., Borucki, W. J. & Toon, O. B. Icarus 56, 80–115 (1983).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Uman, M. The Lightning Discharge (Academic. Orlando, FL, 1987).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Borucki, W. J. & Williams, M. A. J. geophys. Res. 91, 9893–9903 (1986).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  11. Gross, G. W. J. geophys. Res. 87, 7170–7178 (1982).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  12. Ingersoll, A. P. & Kanamoori, H. Nature 374, 706–708 (1995).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Lunine, J. I. & Hunten, D. M. Icarus 60, 566–570 (1987).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  14. Yair, Y., Levin, Z. & Tzivion, S. Icarus 115, 421–434 (1995).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  15. Yair, Y., Levin, Z. & Tzivion, S. Icarus 114, 278–299 (1995).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  16. caranti J. M., Illingworth, A. J. & Marsh, S. J. J. geophys. Res. 90, 6041–6046 (1985).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Norville, K., Baker, M. & Latham, J. J. geophys. Res. 96, 7463–7481 (1991).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  18. Keith, W. D. & Saunders, C. P. R. J. geophys. Res. 94, 13103–13106 (1989).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Stoker, C. R. Icarus 67, 106–125 (1986).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  20. Yanai, M., Esbensen, S. & Chu, J. J. atmos. Sci. 30, 611–627 (1973).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  21. Weast, R. C. CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics (Chemical Rubber Company, Cleveland, OH, 1967).

    Google Scholar 

  22. Takahashi, T. J. atmos. Sci. 32, 123–141 (1975).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  23. Illingworth, A. J. J. geophys. Res. 90, 6026–6032 (1988).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Gibbard, S., Levy, E. & Lunine, J. Generation of lightning in Jupiter's water cloud. Nature 378, 592–595 (1995).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing