A team of NASA scientists has observed a strange glowing light known as the “transient light event” (TLE) in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter.
You have never seen such an event on another planet before – although here on Earth, a similar event will be observed during storms and lightning, far away, in the upper atmosphere. Its cause, like lightning, is the discharge of electrons.
For some time astronomers theoretically allowed lightning to form in Jupiter’s massive turbulent atmosphere. More recently, scientists have collected interesting data from an ultraviolet spectrograph (UVS) attached to NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Juno is a space probe that has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016. It finally confirmed the existence of Jupiter’s upper atmospheric TLE. This process is explained in detail in a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research: Planets.
“UVS is designed to reflect Jupiter’s north and south lights, but by studying UVS images, scientists have detected bright ultraviolet radiation from a part of the planet where there should be no regular light,” said Rohi Gailes, a Juno scientist and lead author. The more we observed this idea, the stronger the idea that this light should have been Jupiter’s TLE, “he added.
The light observed on Jupiter resembles the TLE generated on Earth. According to Giles, this phenomenon will be observed on Earth in the form of “fairies” (large-scale electrical discharge over storms) and “elves” (light emission, characterized by low-frequency disturbances caused by pulsation of an electromagnetic source). It is a massive light that occurs 100 kilometers away from storms and has a reddish color due to its interaction with nitrogen in the upper atmosphere.
On other planets this rare event must take on a different look. “The upper atmosphere on Jupiter is mostly made up of hydrogen, so the TLE here should be either blue or pink.”
“Now that we know what we are looking for, it will be easier for us to find it on both Jupiter and other planets,” says Giles. “Later we will compare the ‘fairies’ and ‘elves’ of Jupiter and Earth. This will help us better understand the electrical activity in the atmosphere of other planets.”