Jupiter is in heat and astronomers are relieved. No, they’re not hoping to catch a glimpse of planetary mating (for one thing – Jupiter is a male). Jupiter is one of those giant gas planets whose inside is cold because of its orbit far from the sun yet has unusually high temperatures in its upper atmosphere. A new study has solved this astronomical “energy crisis” … Jupiter’s red spot is actually a hot spot.
The Great Red Spot is one of the most famous locations in the solar system. It’s three times the size of the Earth and has been churning in the atmosphere for as long as 350 years, making life easy for Jovian weather forecasters … except when trying to predict those mysterious high temperatures in the upper atmosphere. Research published this week in the journal Nature unveiled the reason for the heat above the Great Red (and now Hot) Spot.
Data from by the SpeX spectrometer on the NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, provided the key, according to study co-author Dr. Tom Stallard from the University of Leicester. It showed that temperatures 500 miles above the Great Red Spot measured as high as 1,500C, which is hundreds of degrees warmer than anywhere else on Jupiter.
Co-author Luke Moore, a Boston University research scientist, believes the spot gets hot when storm-generated turbulence in the lower atmosphere creates acoustic waves that combine with gravity waves to create more turbulence and more heat. The acoustic waves may be thunder from the storm.
The Great Red Spot is so massive, that means you have more turbulence, and probably more wave generation and heating there.
Interestingly, this phenomenon occurs on a much smaller scale right here on Earth. Acoustic waves have been observed rising from the Andes mountains and raising temperatures in the atmosphere above them.
The researchers expect to find similar turbulent hot spots on other gas giants and possibly in other areas on Jupiter besides above the Great Red Spot. It just happened to be a good place to look because it’s the most noticeable area on Jupiter. Fortunately, the Juno orbiter just arrived and is looking for things to do.
If Juno finds marijuana growing under the storm, we can call it the Great Red Hot Pot Spot.