The upper atmosphere of planet Jupiter is significantly hotter than what can be attributed to solar radiation alone. A new study suggests that the Great Red Spot of the gas giant is likely behind the high temperature.
Jupiter is four planets away from the sun, so it absorbs much less solar energy compared with other planets that are located near the Solar System's star.
The gas giant's upper atmosphere, however, is nearly as hot as those on Earth, the third planet from the sun, even at 250 miles high from the surface of the planet.
Now, researchers found a link between the high temperatures in Jupiter's upper atmosphere and the location of the Great Red Spot, a hurricane on the giant planet 1.5 times bigger than Earth.
James O'Donoghue, from Boston University's Center for Space Physics, and colleagues mapped out the temperatures across Jupiter's upper atmosphere and detected a temperature spike directly above the Great Red Spot. The region above the storm is far hotter by about 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit compared with the surrounding areas.
"Here we report that the upper atmosphere above Jupiter's Great Red Spot — the largest storm in the Solar System — is hundreds of degrees hotter than anywhere else on the planet," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the journal Nature on July 27.
"This hotspot, by process of elimination, must be heated from below, and this detection is therefore strong evidence for coupling between Jupiter's lower and upper atmospheres, probably the result of upwardly propagating acoustic or gravity waves."
The researchers think that the swirling clouds and gases mix and produce a deafening roar, and these sound waves collide with the particles that are present in the planet's upper atmosphere, which raises the temperature.
"It's kind of like waves crashing on a beach," O'Donoghue said. "Because temperature is only the movement of molecules and ions with each other, bouncing around, the only thing you really need to do is make them move around quicker and collide more with each other."
Researchers said that the Great Red Spot serves as a good source of energy to heat up Jupiter's upper atmosphere, but scientists had no prior evidence of its actual effects on observed temperatures at high altitudes.
Researchers said that a similar phenomenon also occurs in other planets such as Saturn, Uranus and Neptune and likely in all giant exoplanets that lie outside of the solar system.