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NASA’s Juno mission snaps photo of a strange green orb on Jupiter

Published Jun 20th, 2023 6:08PM EDT
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

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A new image of Jupiter taken by the JunoCam on NASA’s Juno spacecraft shows a bright green orb near the planet’s turbulent north pole. While the orb is indeed a bit strange to see after so many observations of the planet, NASA says that it’s just a lightning bolt.

The image, which was shared earlier this month, shows the green orb sparkling brightly against the cloud coverage that covers Jupiter’s surface. While lightning on Earth comes from water in the clouds near our equator, NASA says that lightning on Jupiter is created by clouds with an ammonia-water solution in them. This kind of occurrence often happens around Jupiter’s poles.

Juno has orbited Jupiter 35 times since it began its mission in 2016. During those orbits, the little spacecraft has captured countless images of the planet, as well as data on some of its largest moons. NASA says that the recently shared image was actually captured in December 2020. So it’s been sitting in the archives for a little bit now. The image of the green orb on Jupiter was processed by Kevin M. Gill, a citizen scientist.

green orb on Jupiter, captured by JunoImage source: Image data: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS Image processing by Kevin M. Gill

The green orb seen in the photo was captured when Juno was just 19,900 miles above Jupiter’s cloud tops. The lightning explanation obviously makes a lot of sense, especially since Voyager 1 captured similar lightning flashes on the planet back in 1979. Those flashes were estimated to be up to 10 times more powerful than lightning on Earth. Other planets also experience lightning strikes, too, and Saturn has reportedly seen lightning that can strike as much as 10 times per second.

Juno was originally only expected to run for five years. However, NASA has continued to extend the mission up until 2025. The spacecraft has taught us a lot about Jupiter, capturing data on its faint dust rings, the Great Blue Spot known to exist on the planet, as well as the magnetic field near the planet’s equator. This latest image is just another reminder of how beautiful this turbulent planet can be.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.