Heating of Jupiter’s upper atmosphere above the Great Red Spot


The temperatures of giant-planet upper atmospheres at mid- to low latitudes are measured to be hundreds of degrees warmer than simulations based on solar heating alone can explain1,2,3,4. Modelling studies that focus on additional sources of heating have been unable to resolve this major discrepancy. Equatorward transport of energy from the hot auroral regions was expected to heat the low latitudes, but models have demonstrated that auroral energy is trapped at high latitudes, a consequence of the strong Coriolis forces on rapidly rotating planets3,4,5. Wave heating, driven from below, represents another potential source of upper-atmospheric heating, though initial calculations have proven inconclusive for Jupiter, largely owing to a lack of observational constraints on wave parameters6,7. 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. 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.

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Figure 1: The acquisition of Jovian spectra.
Figure 2: Model fit to observed H3+ intensity as a function of wavelength.
Figure 3: Jovian H3+ temperatures versus planetocentric latitude.


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We thank the Infrared Telescope Facility, which is operated by the University of Hawaii under contract NNH14CK55B with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). We are grateful to the observing staff at the Infrared Telescope Facility and Mauna Kea Observatory. This work was funded by NASA under grant number 9500303356 issued through the Planetary Astronomy Program (to L.M. and J.O’D). The UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) supported this work through the Studentship Enhancement Programme (STEP) for J.O’D., and consolidated grant support for T.S.S. and H.M. (ST/N000749/1). The Royal Astronomical Society partially funded travel to take the observations. We are grateful for the planetary ephemerides that were provided by the Planetary Data System.

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J.O’D. collected, analysed and interpreted the data and wrote the paper. L.M. greatly assisted in the data reduction, analysis, interpretation and writing of the paper. T.S.S. helped with the analysis and interpretation of the data. H.M. assisted in the collection and reduction of data, and provided computer code necessary for the analysis of data. All authors provided comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to J. O’Donoghue.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Nature thanks J. Cho, M. Flasar and J. Sinclair for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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O’Donoghue, J., Moore, L., Stallard, T. et al. Heating of Jupiter’s upper atmosphere above the Great Red Spot. Nature 536, 190–192 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature18940

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