Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Lightning sprites are out-of-this-world: 'Sprites' predicted in atmospheres of Jupiter, Saturn and Venus

Date:
November 21, 2011
Source:
American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Summary:
Lightning storms on planets like Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars may also produce "sprites," bursts of electric energy. Scientists have re-created the atmospheres of these planets to produce artificial "sprites," and the research could lead to a new understanding of electrical and chemical processes on these planets.

Only a few decades ago, scientists discovered the existence of "sprites" 30 to 55 miles above the surface of Earth. They're offshoots of electric discharges caused by lightning storms, and a valuable window into the composition of our atmosphere. Now researchers at Tel Aviv University say that sprites are not a phenomenon specific to our planet.

Jupiter and Saturn experience lightning storms with flashes 1,000 or more times more powerful than those on Earth, says Ph.D. student Daria Dubrovin. With her supervisors Prof. Colin Price of TAU's Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences and Prof. Yoav Yair of the Open University of Israel, and collaborators Prof. Ute Ebert and Dr. Sander Nijdam from the Eindhoven Technical University in Holland, Dubrovin has re-created these planetary atmospheres in the lab to study the presence of sprites in space.

The color of these bursts of electricity indicate what kinds of molecules are present and may explain the presence of exotic compounds, while providing insight into the conductivity of distant planets' atmospheres. This research, which was presented in October at the European Planetary Science Congress in France, could lead to a new understanding of electrical and chemical processes on Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus.

A bolt of extraterrestrial life?

Though a little-known atmospheric phenomenon, sprites are quite common on Earth, says Dubrovin. Because they occur in the mesosphere -- a layer of the atmosphere that is not regularly observed by satellites and too high to be reached by atmospheric balloons -- the discovery of these electric discharges, which are red in color and last only a few tens of milliseconds, was a stroke of luck.

Lightning, as a generator of organic molecules, is credited for contributing to the "primordial soup" that, according to current theories, led to the emergence of life on Earth. Researchers are keen to know more about the possibility of lightning on other planets, explains Dubrovin, not only because it impacts the technological equipment used by space programs, but because it is another clue that could indicate the presence of extraterrestrial life.

To test for the viability of extraterrestrial sprites, Dubrovin and her fellow researchers re-created the atmospheres of Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus in small containers. A circuit that creates strong short-voltage pulses produced a discharge that mimics natural sprites. Images of these discharges, known as streamers, were taken by a fast and sensitive camera, then analyzed. Quantifying factors such as brightness, color, size, radius, and speed could help researchers measure how powerful extraterrestrial lightning actually is, she notes. "We make sprites-in-a-bottle," says Dubrovin, smiling.

Continuing a legacy

Dubrovin believes that the team's predictions could convince scientists operating the Cassini spacecraft -- now orbiting Saturn as part of an ESA/NASA mission -- to point their cameras in a new direction. Currently, she says, there is a huge lightning storm occurring on Saturn producing at least 100 lightning discharges per second -- a rare event that happens approximately once in a decade. Above the lightning-producing clouds in Jupiter's and Saturn's atmosphere, Dubrovin explains, lies a layer of clouds which partly obscure the light from the flashes. If researchers were able to obtain an image of the higher-up sprites from the Cassini craft, it would enable them to gain more information about the storm below.

TAU's research is funded by the Israeli Science Foundation (ISF) and by an Ilan Ramon Scholarship and Endowment, named after the Israeli astronaut who flew on the Columbia space shuttle, through the Israeli Ministry of Science. Part of the scientific research aboard that shuttle was on sprites, notes Dubrovin, who is happy to continue the famous Israeli astronaut's legacy.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Friends of Tel Aviv University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

American Friends of Tel Aviv University. "Lightning sprites are out-of-this-world: 'Sprites' predicted in atmospheres of Jupiter, Saturn and Venus." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 November 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111121114903.htm>.
American Friends of Tel Aviv University. (2011, November 21). Lightning sprites are out-of-this-world: 'Sprites' predicted in atmospheres of Jupiter, Saturn and Venus. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111121114903.htm
American Friends of Tel Aviv University. "Lightning sprites are out-of-this-world: 'Sprites' predicted in atmospheres of Jupiter, Saturn and Venus." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111121114903.htm (accessed September 21, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

MIT BioSuit A New Take On Traditional Spacesuits

MIT BioSuit A New Take On Traditional Spacesuits

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) The MIT BioSuit could be an alternative to big, bulky traditional spacesuits, but the concept needs some work. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Boeing, SpaceX to Send Astronauts to Space Station

Boeing, SpaceX to Send Astronauts to Space Station

AFP (Sep. 17, 2014) NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX on Tuesday to build America's next spacecraft to carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) by 2017, opening the way to a new chapter in human spaceflight. Duration: 01:13 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
East Coast Treated To Rare Meteor Sighting

East Coast Treated To Rare Meteor Sighting

Newsy (Sep. 16, 2014) Numerous residents along the East Coast reported seeing a bright meteor flash through the sky Sunday night. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Reuters - Business Video Online (Sep. 16, 2014) Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' startup will team up with Boeing and Lockheed to develop rocket engines as Elon Musk races to have his rockets certified. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins