Planetary-scale 'heat wave' discovered in Jupiter's atmosphere

Planetary-scale ‘heat wave’ discovered in Jupiter’s atmosphere

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

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

Jupiter’s atmosphere, famous for its characteristic multicolored swirls, is also unexpectedly hot: in fact, it’s 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 -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. However, while Earth’s auroras are transient and only appear when solar activity is intense, Jupiter’s auroras are permanent and vary in intensity. Strong auroras can heat the region around the poles to over 700 degrees Celsius, and global winds can redistribute heat globally around Jupiter.

Looking deeper through their data, Dr O’Donoghue and his team discovered the spectacular ‘heat wave’ just below the aurora borealis and found it was heading equatorward at thousands of kilometers per hour.

The heat wave was likely triggered by a pulse of enhanced aeolian plasma impacting Jupiter’s magnetic field, which stimulated auroral heating and forced hot gases to expand and flow equatorward.

“While auroras continuously provide heat to the rest of the planet, these heat wave ‘events’ are a significant additional source of energy,” added Dr O’Donoghue. “These findings add to our knowledge of the weather and climate of Jupiter’s upper atmosphere and are of great help in trying to solve the problem of the ‘energy crisis’ plaguing research on the giant planets.”

Jupiter’s atmosphere heats up under the solar wind

Provided by Europlanet Media Center

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