Planetary ‘heat wave’ detected in Jupiter’s atmosphere

Planetary 'heat wave' detected in Jupiter's atmosphere

Europlanet Media Center A panorama of Jupiter’s upper atmospheric temperatures, 1000 kilometers above the cloud tops. Jupiter is shown on top of a visible image for context. In this snapshot, the aurora borealis (near the North Pole, in yellow/white) appears to have emitted a massive planetary-scale warming wave toward the equator. The feature is over 130,000 kilometers long, or 10 Earth diameters, and is hundreds of degrees hotter than the background. For video see: Credit: Hubble / NASA / ESA / A. Simon (NASA GSFC) / J. Schmidt. Credit: James O’Donoghue

An unexpected “heat wave” of 700 degrees Celsius extending 130,000 kilometers (10 Earth diameters) in Jupiter’s atmosphere has been discovered. James O’Donoghue, from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), has presented the findings this week at the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2022 in Granada.

Jupiter’s atmosphere, famous for its distinctive multicolored vortices, is also unexpectedly warm: in fact, it is hundreds of degrees warmer than models predict. Due to its orbital distance of millions of kilometers from the sun, the giant planet receives less than 4% of the amount of sunlight compared to Earth, and its upper atmosphere should theoretically be a cold -70 degrees Celsius. Instead, its cloud tops are measured everywhere at over 400 degrees Celsius.

“Last year we produced – and presented at EPSC2021 – the first maps of Jupiter’s upper atmosphere capable of identifying the dominant heat sources,” said Dr. O’Donoghue. “Thanks to these maps, we demonstrated that Jupiter’s auroras were a possible mechanism that could explain these temperatures.”

Like Earth, Jupiter experiences auroras around its poles as an effect of the solar wind. But while Earth’s auroras are transitory and only occur when solar activity is intense, Jupiter’s auroras are permanent and have a variable intensity. The powerful northern lights can heat the area around the poles to over 700 degrees Celsius, and global winds can redistribute the heat globally around Jupiter.

When Dr. Looking deeper into their data, O’Donoghue and his team discovered the spectacular “heat wave” just below the northern aurora and found that it was traveling equatorward at a speed of thousands of kilometers per hour.

The heat wave was likely triggered by a pulse of enhanced solar wind plasma affecting Jupiter’s magnetic field, increasing the heating of the Northern Sound and forcing hot gases to expand and spill equatorward.

“While the Northern Lights continuously deliver heat to the rest of the planet, these heat wave events represent an additional significant source of energy,” added Dr. O’Donoghue. “These results increase our knowledge of Jupiter’s weather and climate in the upper atmosphere and are of great help in trying to solve the ‘energy crisis’ problem that plagues research on the giant planets.”

Jupiter’s atmosphere is heated by the solar wind

Provided by Europlanet Media Center

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