Earth and Jupiter wouldn’t appear to have a lot in common. Earth is a ball of rock surrounded by a thin atmosphere. Jupiter is a ball of gas 11 times wider than Earth, with a thick, dense atmosphere.
One thing they do have in common is thunderstorms. On both planets, rising columns of water vapor condense to form clouds when they reach higher, colder altitudes. If there’s enough water vapor and enough energy, the clouds can reach towering proportions — the kind that produce thunderstorms. On Earth, they can be 10 miles high. But on Jupiter, they can be dozens of miles tall.
Several missions to Jupiter have recorded lightning in its clouds. Some have recorded radio waves produced by the lightning. Others have actually seen lightning. Some of the lightning bolts are thousands of times stronger than anything on Earth.
The Juno mission has also seen smaller flashes above the clouds. And so far, scientists don’t have a great explanation for them. But they continue to work on the problem as Juno takes more readings of Jupiter’s big thunderstorms.
Jupiter’s great size and its clouds make it especially bright. And right now, it’s shining at its brightest. It looks like an especially brilliant star, outshined only by the Moon and Venus. Jupiter is low in the east at nightfall, climbs across the south during the night, and is ready to vanish in the west at dawn.
Script by Damond Benningfield