NASA spacecraft captures new, bright, electrical flashes on Jupiter

  • NASA’s Juno spacecraft discovered that Jupiter’s atmosphere produces lightning-like electrical outbursts called transient luminous events.
  • On Earth, these colorful lights occur during thunderstorms, when lightning strikes produce red tendrils called “sprites” or glowing disks called “elves” high above the clouds.
  • Scientists predicted that Jupiter would have sprites and elves too, since it has lightning — but nobody had captured these alien flashes of light until now.
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NASA’s Juno spacecraft just captured images of colorful bursts of lightning-like electricity high in Jupiter’s atmosphere.

These phenomena — jellyfish-shaped “sprites” and glowing disks called “elves” — also occur high up in Earth’s atmosphere during thunderstorms. They were first documented in 1989. Scientists predicted that other planets that have lightning, like Jupiter, would also produce these transient luminous events.

But nobody had ever seen alien sprites or elves until now.

Juno has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016 and collecting images of its aurorae in ultraviolet light. A team of researchers processing those snapshots recently noticed something odd.

jupiter sprite lightning atmosphere

The south pole of Jupiter and a potential transient luminous event — a bright, unpredictable flash of light (circled in yellow) — captured by Juno on April 10.


NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI



“In the process of putting together those images, we noticed that very occasionally we saw these surprising, short-lived, bright flashes,” Rohini Giles, a researcher on the Juno team, said in a press conference on Tuesday during the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences.

“We then went and searched through all of the data that we’ve taken over four years of the mission, and we found a total of 11 flashes, all with very similar properties,” she added.

Each of these outbursts lasted just a few milliseconds.

Giles’ team on Tuesday published a new study on these flashes in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

On Earth, sprites appear as long, red tendrils, sometimes trailing down from a diffuse halo. They happen when a lightning strike produces a high-altitude “quasi-electrostatic field,” Giles said.

red sprite lightning earth iss thunderstorm skitch

Red sprites above the US photographed from the International Space Station in 2015.


NASA



In other cases, lightning strikes send electromagnetic pulses upward. The pulses produce glowing disks: elves.

“On Earth, sprites and elves appear reddish in color due to their interaction with nitrogen in the upper atmosphere,” Giles said. “But on Jupiter, the upper atmosphere mostly consists of hydrogen, so they would likely appear either blue or pink.”

Juno can’t confirm that these events were triggered by lightning strikes, since the probe’s lightning-detecting instrument is on the other side of the spacecraft from its UV-imaging instrument. Images from the two instruments are taken at least 10 seconds apart, a delay that’s too long to capture the same flash of light.

jupiter great red spot hubble

A Hubble Space Telescope photo of Jupiter taken on June 27, 2019, reveals the planet’s Great Red Spot.


NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center) and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley)



But everything else points to these 11 outbursts being transient

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South Africa’s unusual electrical plugs, sockets to be retired



a sunset in the background


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If you’ve ever traveled to South Africa and tried to use your multi-country adapter to recharge your phone or laptop, you may have been surprised that your adapter could not fit into the country’s unique sockets.

South Africa is now putting the electrical plugs and sockets the nation has relied on for generations on the road to retirement. The plugs, which feature three large pins configured in a triangle, are giving way to a compact hexagonal three-pin design, with sockets following suit.

The new plug and socket, which is based on the latest international standard, accommodates the European-type two-pin plugs on cellphone chargers and small appliances, as well as a two-pin plug based on a German design that comes attached to most power tools imported into the country.

Though South Africa has required buildings built since 2018 to have so-called 164-2 type sockets (the number designates the national standard for the new plug and socket type), the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) recently updated the standard to introduce warnings on adapters not permitted to be plugged into one another in order to avoid straining the socket.



a close up of a sign


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Stop.

A proliferation of smartphones, tablets, and small appliances that rely on the two-pin European plug, combined with the need by South Africans to plug their devices into outlets designed for the traditional large-pin plugs (a so-called 164-1 type) found in millions of homes and offices nationwide, fuels a reliance on adapters that raises the risk of short circuiting, fire, and damage to devices.

“With the array of appliances and devices that have become commonplace in today’s world, it is critical to ensure that the plugs and sockets are also changing to accommodate the more compact designs of plugs,” Jodi Scholtz, lead administrator of SABS, said in a statement that elaborates on the update.





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Old vs New

The ubiquity of 164-1 type sockets together with a deluge of two-pin devices results in the use of “adapters-on-adapters” in sockets across South Africa and poses a danger to consumers, she explained.

Adapter fatigue

With its ability to accommodate the European-style plugs, the new South African socket will cut down on the number of adapters that people need to power their devices. Unlike its European cousin, the new South African plug adds a third pin to satisfy a national mandate that sockets have protection for earth leakage, which reduces the risk of shock by detecting stray voltage.

“The new standard will not eliminate the use of adaptors, however it will reduce the need and enable safer use of them,” Scholtz told Quartz Africa. “Most foreign visitors will still need to use their adaptors to have devices work, and sockets will be able to accommodate the old type of plugs.”



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South Africa’s updated wall socket

The 164-2 plug and socket incorporate safety by design. A pocket in the socket prevents consumers from touching a live pin during insertion. To prevent adapter

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