An image from Jupiter taken by NASA’s JunoCam shows a bright green dot on the planet’s north pole. Turns out, the glowing orb is a lightning bolt, NASA says.
While lightning on Earth often comes from water clouds near the equator, clouds containing an ammonia-water solution oftentimes cause lighting near Jupiter’s poles, according to NASA.
Juno started its mission on Jupiter in 2016 and orbited the planet 35 times, capturing images and data. The images taken by the spacecraft are made public by NASA for people to download and process.
The image of the lightning strike was captured by Juno on December 30, 2020, when it was about 19,900 miles above Jupiter’s cloud tops. It was processed by Kevin M. Gill, who NASA calls a “citizen scientist.”
Lightning also occurs on other planets. In 1979, another spacecraft called Voyager 1 captured lightning flashes on Jupiter that were 10 times more powerful than lightning on Earth, according to NASA. On Saturn, lightning can strike as much as 10 times per second.
Data from the Mars Global Surveyor didn’t capture information on lightning, but there were bright flashes during dust storms and some scientists believe craters on Mars could be caused by lightning strikes.
Juno’s initial mission was supposed to last five years but NASA has extended it until 2025.
The space craft has captured information about Jupiter’s interior structure, internal magnetic field, atmosphere, magnetosphere, the dust in its faint rings and its Great Blue Spot, which is an intense magnetic field near the planet’s equator.
Juno is also flying by Jupiter’s moons, which have donut-shaped clouds surrounding them, which the spacecraft will fly through.
Earlier this year, it was announced that 12 new moons were discovered in Jupiter’s atmosphere by astronomers. The moons were seen on telescopes located in Hawaii and Chile in 2021 and 2022. The planet now has a record 92 moons.