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Researchers believe Jupiter's Red Spot is heated by thunder

Engadget Engadget 28/07/2016 Andrew Dalton
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Despite its distance from the sun, Jupiter is a surprisingly hot planet with temperatures ranging around 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle latitudes. According to new findings published today in the journal Nature, temperatures over the planet's Great Red Spot can range even higher -- up to about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1,300 degrees Celsius. And the researchers behind the new study believe they may have finally figured what's feeding the extreme temperatures around the 10,000-mile-wide storm.

The first temperature readings of Jupiter were made by NASA's Pioneer 10 spacecraft in the seventies, but this latest discovery was made by Boston University researcher James O'Donoghue using NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii. According to the New York Times, scientists originally suspected Jupiter's massive polar auroras might have something to do with it. Although the temperatures around the poles are about 1,700 degrees, researchers couldn't figure out how all that energy was reaching the equator where the Great Red Spot has been churning for hundreds of years.

Now, O'Donoghue's research suggests that the heat is actually rising up from within the storm itself, rather than from the surrounding atmosphere. To explain this, the researchers suggest the energy is rising up in the form of sound waves emanating from the turbulence below. The waves ripple upwards and then create energy when they crash into the upper atmosphere. According to Science News, a similar effect has been observed on a much smaller scale over the Andes mountains here on Earth. Likewise, smaller ripples like this could be occurring all over Jupiter, which would explain how the planet heats itself.

While plausible, O'Donoghue's theory is still unconfirmed and, as one NASA scientist who studies planetary atmospheres pointed out, a Methane glow could be interfering with the Infrared Telescope's readings. Either way, researchers will get a closer look at the Great Red Spot later this year when Juno passes over its western side in November, followed by another pass next August.


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