What makes Jupiter so hot?

An international team of researchers has found the mechanism behind Jupiter’s atmospheric heating.

Jupiter 1
This full-disc image of Jupiter was taken on 21 April 2014 with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3).

Using data from the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the researchers created the most-detailed yet global heat map of the planet’s upper atmosphere and confirmed that Jupiter’s powerful aurorae are responsible for heating the planet.

Using the Keck telescope, the researchers found that temperatures start very high within the aurora, and despite their taking up less than 10% of the area of the planet, appear to heat the whole planet.

PIA21033 Junos View of Jupiters Southern Lights
Infrared view of southern lights

The researchers were able to confirm that the equatorial heating is directly associated with auroral heating.

Previous maps of the upper atmospheric temperature had insufficient resolution to explain how the temperature varied across the planet, thereby providing few clues.

This study created five maps of the atmospheric temperature at different spatial resolutions. Models of the atmospheres of gas giants suggest that they work like giant refrigerators, with heat energy drawn from the equator towards the pole. These new findings suggest that fast-changing aurorae may drive waves of energy against this poleward flow, says a release from the University of Leicester.