Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. 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.

Discovery of rapid whistlers close to Jupiter implying lightning rates similar to those on Earth

An Author Correction to this article was published on 20 June 2018

This article has been updated

Abstract

Electrical currents in atmospheric lightning strokes generate impulsive radio waves in a broad range of frequencies, called atmospherics. These waves can be modified by their passage through the plasma environment of a planet into the form of dispersed whistlers1. In the Io plasma torus around Jupiter, Voyager 1 detected whistlers as several-seconds-long slowly falling tones at audible frequencies2. These measurements were the first evidence of lightning at Jupiter. Subsequently, Jovian lightning was observed by optical cameras on board several spacecraft in the form of localized flashes of light3,4,5,6,7. Here, we show measurements by the Waves instrument8 on board the Juno spacecraft9,10,11 that indicate observations of Jovian rapid whistlers: a form of dispersed atmospherics at extremely short timescales of several milliseconds to several tens of milliseconds. On the basis of these measurements, we report over 1,600 lightning detections, the largest set obtained to date. The data were acquired during close approaches to Jupiter between August 2016 and September 2017, at radial distances below 5 Jovian radii. We detected up to four lightning strokes per second, similar to rates in thunderstorms on Earth12 and six times the peak rates from the Voyager 1 observations13.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Examples of observed Jovian rapid whistlers.
Fig. 2: Map of lightning detections by the Juno Waves instrument compared with previous observations.
Fig. 3: Lightning rates as a function of latitude and altitude.

Change history

  • 20 June 2018

    In the version of this Letter originally published, in the second sentence of the last paragraph before the Methods section the word ‘altitudes’ was mistakenly used in place of the word ‘latitudes’. The sentence has now been corrected accordingly to: ‘Low-dispersion class 1 events indicate that low-density ionospheric regions predominantly occur in the northern hemisphere at latitudes between 20° and 70°.’

References

  1. Storey, L. R. O. An investigation of whistling atmospherics. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. A 246, 113–141 (1953).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Gurnett, D. A., Shaw, R. R., Anderson, R. R., Kurth, W. S. & Scarf, F. L. Whistlers observed by Voyager 1: detection of lightning on Jupiter. Geophys. Res. Lett. 6, 511–514 (1979).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Smith, B. A. et al. The Jupiter system through the eyes of Voyager 1. Science 204, 951–957 (1979).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Borucki, W. J. & Magalhaes, J. A. Analysis of Voyager 2 images of Jovian lightning. Icarus 96, 1–14 (1992).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Little, B. et al. Galileo images of lightning on Jupiter. Icarus 142, 306–323 (1999).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Dyudina, U. A. et al. Lightning on Jupiter observed in the Hα line by the Cassini imaging science subsystem. Icarus 172, 24–36 (2004).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Baines, K. H. et al. Polar lightning and decadal-scale cloud variability on Jupiter. Science 318, 226–229 (2007).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Kurth, W. S. The Juno Waves Investigation. Space Sci. Rev. 213, 347–392 (2017).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Bolton, S. J., Levin, S. M. & Bagenal, F. Juno’s first glimpse of Jupiter’s complexity. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 7663–7667 (2017).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Bolton, S. J. et al. Jupiter’s interior and deep atmosphere: the initial pole-to-pole passes with the Juno spacecraft. Science 356, 821–825 (2017).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Connerney, J. E. P. et al. Jupiter’s magnetosphere and aurorae observed by the Juno spacecraft during its first polar orbits. Science 356, 826–832 (2017).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Fiser, J., Chum, J., Diendorfer, G., Parrot, M. & Santolik, O. Whistler intensities above thunderstorms. Ann. Geophys. 28, 37–46 (2010).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Kurth, W. S., Strayer, B. D., Gurnett, D. A. & Scarf, F. L. A summary of whistlers observed by Voyager 1 at Jupiter. Icarus 61, 497–507 (1985).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Santolík, O., Parrot, M. & Chum, J. Propagation spectrograms of whistler-mode radiation from lightning. IEEE Trans. Plasma Sci. 36, 1166–1167 (2008).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Williams, M. A. An Analysis of Voyager Images of Jovian Lightning (Univ. Arizona, University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, 1986).

  16. Gierasch, P. et al. Observation of moist convection in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Nature 403, 628–30 (2000).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Rinnert, K. et al. Measurements of radio frequency signals from lightning in Jupiter’s atmosphere. J. Geophys. Res. Planets 103, 22979–22992 (1998).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Connerney, J. E. P., Acuña, M. H., Ness, N. F. & Satoh, T. New models of Jupiter’s magnetic field constrained by the Io flux tube footprint. J. Geophys. Res. Space Phys. 103, 11929–11939 (1998).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Tetrick, S. S. et al. Plasma waves in Jupiter’s high-latitude regions: observations from the Juno spacecraft. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 4447–4454 (2017).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Kurth, W. S. et al. A new view of Jupiter’s auroral radio spectrum. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 7114–7121 (2017).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Brown, S. et al. Prevalent lightning sferics at 600 megahertz near Jupiter’s poles. Nature https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0156-5 (2018).

  22. Scarf, F. L., Gurnett, D. A., Kurth, W. S., Anderson, R. R. & Shaw, R. R. An upper bound to the lightning flash rate in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Science 213, 684–685 (1981).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Lewis, J. S. Lightning on Jupiter: rate, energetics, and effects. Science 210, 1351–1352 (1980).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Christian, H. J. Global frequency and distribution of lightning as observed from space by the Optical Transient Detector. J. Geophys. Res. 108, 4005 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Ingersoll, A., Gierasch, P., Banfield, D. & Vasavada, A. Moist convection as an energy source for the large-scale motions in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Nature 403, 630–632 (2000).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Santolík, O. et al. Survey of Poynting flux of whistler mode chorus in the outer zone. J. Geophys. Res. 115, 1–13 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Connerney, J. E. P. et al. The Juno Magnetic Field Investigation. Space Sci. Rev. 213, 39–138 (2017).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Gurnett, D. A. & Bhattacharjee, A. Introduction to Plasma Physics With Space, Laboratory and Astrophysical Applications 2nd edn (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2017).

  29. Hinson, D. P., Twicken, J. D. & Karayel, E. T. Jupiter’s ionosphere: new results from Voyager 2 radio occultation measurements. J. Geophys. Res. Space Phys. 103, 9505–9520 (1998).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Hinson, D. P. et al. Jupiter’s ionosphere: results from the First Galileo Radio Occultation Experiment. Geophys. Res. Lett. 24, 2107 (1997).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We acknowledge all members of the Juno mission team, especially the engineers and staff of the Juno Waves instrument. The research at the University of Iowa was supported by NASA through contract 699041X with the Southwest Research Institute. The work of I.K. and O.S. was supported by the MSM100421701 and LTAUSA17070 grants and the Praemium Academiae award.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

I.K. and M.I. independently performed extensive searches for Jovian rapid whistlers in the Waves burst dataset and combined the results in common list of events. M.I. and O.S. prepared the occurrence maps and calculated occurrence rates from this list. W.S.K., G.B.H. and D.A.G provided consultations on data analysis. W.S.K. is responsible for the Juno Waves instrument. J.E.P.C. provided the planetary magnetic field measurements. S.J.B. is principal investigator of the Juno spacecraft. The manuscript was written by O.S. and I.K. with input from all authors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ivana Kolmašová.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures 1–10, Supplementary Tables 1–2, Supplementary Audio Guide

Supplementary Audio 1

Sound of whistler from Fig. 1a

Supplementary Audio 2

Sound of whistler from Fig. 1b

Supplementary Data 1

List of historical optical lightning detections on Jupiter

Supplementary Data 2

List of Jovian rapid whistlers observed by Juno

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Kolmašová, I., Imai, M., Santolík, O. et al. Discovery of rapid whistlers close to Jupiter implying lightning rates similar to those on Earth. Nat Astron 2, 544–548 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-018-0442-z

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-018-0442-z

Further reading

Search

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