Lightning has been detected on Jupiter by all visiting spacecraft through night-side optical imaging and whistler (lightning-generated radio waves) signatures1,2,3,4,5,6. Jovian lightning is thought to be generated in the mixed-phase (liquid–ice) region of convective water clouds through a charge-separation process between condensed liquid water and water-ice particles, similar to that of terrestrial (cloud-to-cloud) lightning7,8,9. Unlike terrestrial lightning, which emits broadly over the radio spectrum up to gigahertz frequencies10,11, lightning on Jupiter has been detected only at kilohertz frequencies, despite a search for signals in the megahertz range12. Strong ionospheric attenuation or a lightning discharge much slower than that on Earth have been suggested as possible explanations for this discrepancy13,14. Here we report observations of Jovian lightning sferics (broadband electromagnetic impulses) at 600 megahertz from the Microwave Radiometer15 onboard the Juno spacecraft. These detections imply that Jovian lightning discharges are not distinct from terrestrial lightning, as previously thought. In the first eight orbits of Juno, we detected 377 lightning sferics from pole to pole. We found lightning to be prevalent in the polar regions, absent near the equator, and most frequent in the northern hemisphere, at latitudes higher than 40 degrees north. Because the distribution of lightning is a proxy for moist convective activity, which is thought to be an important source of outward energy transport from the interior of the planet16,17, increased convection towards the poles could indicate an outward internal heat flux that is preferentially weighted towards the poles9,16,18. The distribution of moist convection is important for understanding the composition, general circulation and energy transport on Jupiter.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Nature Physics Open Access 10 January 2022
Geoscience Letters Open Access 09 July 2020
Space Science Reviews Open Access 12 March 2020
Subscribe to Nature+
Get immediate online access to the entire Nature family of 50+ journals
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Gurnett, D. A., Shaw, R. R., Anderson, R. R., Kurth, W. S. & Scarf, F. L. Whistlers 215 observed by Voyager 1: detection of lightning on Jupiter. Geophys. Res. Lett. 6, 511–514 (1979).
Cook, A. F., Duxbury, T. C. & Hunt, G. E. First results of Jovian lightning. Nature 280, 794 (1979).
Borucki, W. J. & Magalhães, J. A. Analysis of Voyager 2 images of Jovian lightning. Icarus 96, 1–14 (1992).
Little, B. et al. Galileo images of lightning on Jupiter. Icarus 142, 306–323 (1999).
Dyudina, U. A. et al. Lightning on Jupiter observed in the Hα line by the Cassini imaging science subsystem. Icarus 172, 24–36 (2004).
Baines, K. H. et al. Polar lightning and decadal-scale cloud variability on Jupiter. Science 318, 226–229 (2007).
Rinnert, K. Lightning on other planets. J. Geophys. Res. D 90, 6225–6237 (1985).
Gibbard, S., Levy, E. H. & Lunine, J. I. Generation of lightning in Jupiter’s water cloud. Nature 378, 592–595 (1995).
Gierasch, P. J., Ingersoll, A. P., Banfield, D. & Ewald, S. P. Observation of moist convection in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Nature 403, 628–630 (2000).
Oh, L. L. Measured and calculated spectral amplitude distribution of lightning sferics. IEEE Trans. Electromagn. Compat. 4, 125–130 (1969).
LeVine, D. M. & Meneghini, R. Simulation of radiation from lightning return strokes: the effects of tortuosity. Radio Sci. 13, 801–809 (1978).
Rinnert, K. et al. Measurements of radio frequency signals from lightning in Jupiter’s atmosphere. J. Geophys. Res. Planets 103, 22979–22992 (1998).
Farrell, W. M. in Radio Astronomy at Long Wavelengths (eds Stone, R. G. et al.) 179–186 (American Geophysical Union, Washington DC, 2000).
Zarka, P. On detection of radio bursts associated with Jovian and Saturnian lightning. Astron. Astrophys. 146, L15–L18 (1985).
Janssen, M. A. et al. MWR: microwave radiometer for the Juno mission to Jupiter. Space Sci. Rev. 213, 139–185 (2017).
Ingersoll, A. P. & Porco, C. C. Solar heating and internal heat flow on Jupiter. Icarus 35, 27–43 (1978).
Ingersoll, A. P., Gierasch, P. J., Banfield, D., Vasavada, A. R. & Galileo Imaging Team. Moist convection as an energy source for the large-scale motions in Jupiter's atmosphere. Nature 403, 630–632 (2000).
Pirraglia, J. A. Meridional energy balance of Jupiter. Icarus 59, 169–176 (1984).
Stoker, C. R. Moist convection: a mechanism for producing the vertical structure of the Jovian equatorial plumes. Icarus 67, 106–125 (1986).
Guillot, T. Condensation of methane, ammonia, and water and the inhibition of convection in giant planets. Science 269, 1697–1699 (1995).
Majeed, T., McConnell, J. C. & Gladstone, G. R. A model analysis of Galileo electron densities on Jupiter. Geophys. Res. Lett. 26, 2335–2338 (1999).
Kolmašová, I. et al. Discovery of rapid whistlers close to Jupiter implying similar lightning rates as on Earth. Nat. Astron. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-018-0442-z (2018).
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. 103, 11929–11939 (1998).
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).
Li, C. et al. The distribution of ammonia on Jupiter from a preliminary inversion of Juno Microwave Radiometer data. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 5317–5325 (2017).
Ingersoll, A. P. et al. Implications of the ammonia distribution on Jupiter from 1 to 100 bars as measured by the Juno microwave radiometer. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 7676–7685 (2017).
Niemann, H. B. et al. The composition of the Jovian atmosphere as determined by the Galileo probe mass spectrometer. J. Geophys. Res. Planets 103, 22831–22845 (1998).
Atreya, S. K. et al. Comparison of the atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn: deep atmospheric composition, cloud structure, vertical mixing, and origin. Planet. Space Sci. 47, 1243–1262 (1999).
Hueso, R. & Sánchez-Lavega, A. A three-dimensional model of moist convection for the giant planets: the Jupiter case. Icarus 151, 257–274 (2001).
Porco, C. C. et al. Cassini imaging of Jupiter's atmosphere, satellites, and rings. Science 299, 1541–1547 (2003).
This research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 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 grants MSM100421701 and LTAUSA17070 and by the Praemium Academiae award.
Nature thanks U. Dyudina and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Extended data figures and tables
a, Antenna temperature measurements obtained during a spin of the spacecraft. The scan from limb to limb of Jupiter is shown at the centre of the image and enlarged in panel b. The single positive outlier is the additive emission from the lightning discharge above the background emission from the atmosphere.
a, Smoothed background antenna temperature (TA) and the data. b, Difference between the measurements and the smoothed background antenna temperature for perijove 7. c, Differences between the MWR data and the background antenna temperature for all perijoves. The dotted lines in b and c indicate where the detection threshold is set relative to the variance in the data.
Extended Data Fig. 3 Normalized 600-MHz lightning power, expressed as antenna temperature, as a function of latitude.
a, Power normalized to the perijove distance by the square of the distance. This normalization is used if the observed power from each detection originates from a single source, which is expected for discharge rates less than 300 km−2 yr−1 near the equator and 0.3 km−2 yr−1 at the poles. b, Power normalized by both the distance and the area covered by the antenna pattern, which is used if the observed power originates from several sources and should be scaled per unit area.
Extended Data Fig. 4 Lightning detections per second by the MWR and the Waves instrument as a function of latitude.
The same MWR distribution as that shown in Fig. 2, but with the red line showing the distribution with an equalized detection threshold as a function of latitude.
About this article
Cite this article
Brown, S., Janssen, M., Adumitroaie, V. et al. Prevalent lightning sferics at 600 megahertz near Jupiter’s poles. Nature 558, 87–90 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0156-5
This article is cited by
Nature Physics (2022)
Experimental Astronomy (2021)
Geoscience Letters (2020)
Nature Astronomy (2020)