Scientists scanning Jupiter’s atmosphere have found a mysterious spike in temperature high above the Great Red Spot — that massive, swirling storm that has graced the planet’s face for centuries.
The discovery, described in the journal Nature, may hint at a deeper connection between the dynamics of the gas giant’s upper and lower atmosphere, and could shed light on the basic physics of such planets in our solar system and beyond.
For more than four decades, scientists have struggled to explain why the temperatures in parts of the giant planets’ upper atmospheres can be hundreds of degrees warmer than expected — too warm to be explained by heating from the sun.
“Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are all far too hot in their upper atmospheres compared to the amount of sunlight they receive,” said lead author James O’Donoghue, a planetary scientist at Boston University. “For example, Jupiter should be about 200 degrees Kelvin, whereas we consistently measure it to be over 1,000. So it’s a massive discrepancy.”