Solution to Jupiter’s “energy crisis” possibly found; the Great Red Spot holds key

Researchers have possibly found the solution to the Jupiter’s puzzling “energy crisis” and it is likely to do with the planet’s Great Red Spot.

The problem is this: the top layer of Jupiter’s atmosphere cover the entire planet and according to estimates the temperature of this layer should be around 200 K. But when measurements of the temperature of this layer were made, it turned out that the temperature is four times the initial estimates at whopping 800 K and this is something that has been puzzling astronomers for decades.

A team of astronomers from Boston University and the University of Leicester in England has been looking at this problem and they seem to have found the solution in the planet’s Great Red Spot. Researchers from the two universities have found that the upper atmosphere 500 miles above the Great Red Spot is even hotter than the rest of the thermosphere at 1600 Kelvin. In a paper published in the journal Nature scientists are of the opinion that it is the energy from this storm raging since at least 150 years that is responsible for the high temperatures of thermosphere.

Authors of the study explain that like ocean waves breaking on the shore, the waves from the storm “dump” their stored-up energy in the upper atmosphere. Instead of water waves, though, the Great Red Spot sends up waves of compressed gas that break in a hot froth at the upper atmosphere.

To measure the temperature of Jupiter’s upper atmosphere, researchers took advantage of the unique properties of a molecule called protonated molecular hydrogen, or H3+, which on Jupiter is found mostly in a 200-mile-thick layer of the upper atmosphere. Protonated molecular hydrogen is a positively charged molecule made up of three hydrogen atoms arranged like the points of a triangle. When it gets hot, protonated molecular hydrogen gives off light. The colors that make up that light change as the temperature of the molecule changes. By splitting Jupiter’s light up into its component colors and comparing the results against a computer model, scientists were able to use H3+ as a kind of “light thermometer” to take the temperature of the upper atmosphere.

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