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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


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.

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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.

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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°.’


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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.

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Authors and Affiliations



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.

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Correspondence to Ivana Kolmašová.

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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

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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).

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