Results from NASA’s Juno mission have shown that the largest planet in our solar system may be home to “shallow lightning.”
According to NASA, shallow lightening is an unexpected electrical discharge that originates in clouds containing ammonia-water solution.
Other new findings suggest the violent thunderstorms for which the gas giant is known may form slushy ammonia-rich hailstones Juno’s science team calls “mushballs”.
“Juno’s close flybys of the cloud tops allowed us to see something surprising – smaller, shallower flashes – originating at much higher altitudes in Jupiter’s atmosphere than previously assumed possible,” said Heidi Becker, Juno’s Radiation Monitoring Investigation lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the lead author of the Nature paper.
The team theorise that the powerful thunderstorms on Jupiter fling water-ice crystals high into the planet’s atmosphere. Here they encounter atmospheric ammonia vapour that melts the ice, forming the ammonia-water solution.
“At these altitudes, the ammonia acts like an antifreeze, lowering the melting point of water ice and allowing the formation of a cloud with ammonia-water liquid,” said Becker. “In this new state, falling droplets of ammonia-water liquid can collide with the upgoing water-ice crystals and electrify the clouds. This was a big surprise, as ammonia-water clouds do not exist on Earth.”
Watch this lightening here: