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posted by hubie on Friday May 26, @06:56AM   Printer-friendly
from the shocking-discovery dept.

Collisions of water and ice might build electric charge in thunderclouds on both planets:

On Jupiter, lightning jerks and jolts a lot like it does on Earth.

Jovian lightning emits radio wave pulses that are typically separated by about one millisecond, researchers report May 23 in Nature Communications. The energetic prestissimo, the scientists say, is a sign that the gas giant's lightning propagates in pulses, at a pace comparable to that of the bolts that cavort through our own planet's thunderclouds. The similarities between the two world's electrical phenomena could have implications for the search for alien life.

Arcs of lightning on both worlds appear to move somewhat like a winded hiker going up a mountain, pausing after each step to catch their breath, says Ivana Kolmašová, an atmospheric physicist at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague. "One step, another step, then another step ... and so on."

Here on Earth, lightning forms as turbulent winds within thunderclouds cause many ice crystals and water droplets to rub together, become charged and then move to opposite sides of the clouds, progressively generating static electrical charges. When the charges grow big enough to overcome the air's ability to insulate them, electrons are released — the lightning takes its first step. From there, the surging electrons will repeatedly ionize the air and rush into it, lurching the bolt forward at an average of hundreds of thousands of meters per second.

Scientists have suggested that superbolts observed in Jovian clouds might also form by collisions between ice crystals and water droplets (SN: 8/5/20). But no one knew whether the alien lightning extended and branched in increments, as they do on Earth, or if they took some other form.

[...] If that universality is real, it could have implications for the search for life elsewhere. Experiments have shown that lightning strikes on Earth could have smelted some of the chemical ingredients needed to form the building blocks of life (SN: 3/16/21). If lightning is discharging in a similar way on alien worlds, Yair says, then it could be producing similar ingredients in those places too.

Journal Reference:
Kolmašová, I., Santolík, O., Imai, M. et al. Lightning at Jupiter pulsates with a similar rhythm as in-cloud lightning at Earth. Nat Commun 14, 2707 (2023).

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