Halloween Spirit? NASA’s Juno Mission Captures Bizarre Flashes of Light on Jupiter

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With sightings of Sprites and Elves, it seems like even Jupiter is participating in Halloween this year. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Juno mission has detected blue Sprites and Elves in the atmosphere of the solar system’s largest planet.

While it may excite your Halloween spirit, the sightings have more of a scientific reason behind it. Sprites and Elves are two types of quick, bright flashes of light, or transient luminous events which are pretty common on Earth. However, this is the first time these unpredictable and extremely brief flashes of light, scientifically known as transient luminous events (TLEs), have been observed on another planet in the solar system. The findings were published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets on Tuesday.

Sprites are named after mischievous, quick-witted characters in English folklore, but in science, they are bright centers of light that are triggered by lightning and occur far above thunderstorms. On Earth, this phenomena usually occurs about 60 miles above large thunderstorms. The light from Sprites can reach 15 to 30 miles across, but these flares last for just milliseconds. These flashes are shaped like a jellyfish and extend both up and down towards the ground.

The study was long in the making after scientists predicted the presence of bright, super fast flashes of light in Jupiter's vast roiling atmosphere. In 2019, NASA researchers working on data from Juno's ultraviolet spectrograph instrument (UVS) discovered a bright, narrow streak of ultraviolet emission that disappeared in a flash.

After studying the UVS discovery, researchers were sure of a Jovian aurora and also a bright flash of UV light over in the corner where it wasn't supposed to be. The more the team looked into it, the more they realized that Juno may have detected a TLE on Jupiter.

Sprites and Elves appear reddish in colour on Earth due to the presence of nitrogen in the upper atmosphere. But, on Jupiter, the upper atmosphere mainly consists of hydrogen, which is why they appear either blue or pink.