(ORDO NEWS) — A heat wave the size of 10 Earths has been detected penetrating Jupiter’s atmosphere.
It was 130,000 kilometers (about 81,000 miles) across and 700 degrees Celsius (1,292 degrees Fahrenheit). speeds up to 2400 meters per second away from the north pole of Jupiter.
And that, scientists say, could solve one of the toughest mysteries about our solar system’s largest planet why it’s so much hotter than models predict.
It is the persistent auroras that twinkle at Jupiter’s poles that could provide the extra energy to heat the gas giant to temperatures much higher than we’d expect, and are likely responsible for the raging heat wave, along with the dense solar wind.
“Last year, we produced… the first maps of Jupiter’s upper atmosphere that can identify dominant heat sources,” says astronomer James O’Donoghue of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in Japan.
“Through these maps, we demonstrated that Ju Peter’s auroras were a possible mechanism that could explain these temperatures.”
The first suspicion that something strange was happening in the atmosphere of Jupiter appeared in the 1970s, about 50 years ago.
Jupiter is much farther from the Sun than the Earth; actually about five times the distance. At this distance, it receives only four percent of the solar radiation that reaches the Earth.
Its upper atmosphere should have an average temperature of around -73 degrees Celsius (-99 degrees Fahrenheit). Instead, it is around 420 degrees Celsius, which is comparable to Earth’s upper atmosphere and much higher than can be explained by solar heating alone.
This means something else must be happening on Jupiter, and the first heat maps obtained by O’Donoghue and colleagues and published last year pointed to a solution.
Jupiter is crowned with the most powerful auroras in the solar system, shining at wavelengths invisible to human eyes. We also know that auroras here on Earth cause significant heating in our own atmosphere.
Jupiter’s auroras are formed in much the same way as Earth’s: interactions between charged particles, magnetic fields, and molecules in the planet’s atmosphere.
And they are also very different. Terrestrial auroras are born from gusts of particles brought by the powerful solar wind. They occur sporadically and depend on this irregular supply.
Jupiter’s auroras are constant and generated by particles from its moon Io, the most volcanic object in the solar system, which is constantly spewing sulfur dioxide.
This forms a torus of plasma around Jupiter, which travels to its poles through the magnetic field lines, from where it enters the atmosphere.
And voila , the Northern Lights. Previous thermal maps of Jupiter have identified hotspots directly below the aurora oval, suggesting a connection between the two.
But then things got more interesting. The contribution of Io does not mean that there is no contribution from auroras from the Sun, and this is what O’Donoghue and his colleagues observed.
As they were collecting observations of Jupiter and its strange temperatures, a dense solar wind slammed into the gas giant. As a result, the team observed an increase in auroral heating.
As the hot gas expands, this is likely what causes the heat wave to slosh out of the auroral oval and roll toward the equator at speeds up to a thousand kilometers per hour.
Thus, as it propagated, it would deliver a significant amount of additional heat to Jupiter’s atmosphere.
“While the auroras are continuously delivering heat to the rest of the planet, these heat wave ‘events’ represent an additional significant source of energy,” explains O’Donoghue.
“These results add to our knowledge of the weather and climate of Jupiter’s upper atmosphere and are a big help in trying to solve the ‘energy crisis’ that is hindering exploration of the giant planets.”
Jupiter isn’t the only planet in the solar system that’s hotter than it should be. Saturn, Neptune and Uranus are hundreds of degrees hotter than can be explained by solar heating.
While none of the other auroras has the magnitude of Jupiter, this discovery represents a path for research that could go further. way to solve the puzzle.
The team presented their findings at the Europlanet 2022 scientific congress.
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