Research

Where Jupiter’s Heat Comes From

Exactly what goes on in Jupiter’s atmosphere has confounded scientists for decades. Its upper atmosphere – essentially the only part we can observe – is hundreds of degrees warmer than solar heating can account for. Although it has bright auroras at its poles, that energy is trapped at high altitudes by the same rotational effects that create Jupiter’s stunning bands.

Observations of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a storm that’s lasted for hundreds of years, may provide clues as to where all the extra heat is coming from. Spectral mapping shows that the area over the Spot is over 1000K warmer than the rest of the upper atmosphere. Because of its isolated location, the best explanation for the Great Red Spot’s extra heat comes from below: scientists suspect that the raging storm is generating so much turbulence and such a deafening roar that these gravity and acoustic waves propagate upward and heat the atmosphere above. If so, a similar coupling mechanism to the clouds below may account for the widespread warmth in Jupiter’s upper atmosphere. (Image credit: NASA; research credit: J. O’Donoghue et al.)

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