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By Lumistar's Chief Scientist

August 15, 2016

Infrared Shows Jupiter’s Great Red Spot Is Hot

Update 9/2/16: Jupiter’s Full Scan in Infrared!

A recent infrared scan of Jupiter shows it’s Great Red Spot to be the hottest spot on the planet – by a significant amount. The Great Red Spot has been churning for at least 150 years and is currently shrinking. What was once 25,000 miles wide in the 1800s is now 10,000 miles wide. The GRS was first discovered by Galileo in the 1600s. The color has also changed over time. It currently spans the distance equal to three Earth-diameters. It is comparable by scientists to a Earth hurricane, and it takes six days to complete one spin. The lower atmosphere of Jupiter is very hot as it’s a gas giant composed of mostly hydrogen and helium, much like the sun. The planet releases more heat than it receives from the sun as gravity compresses its mass and slowly shrinks the planet as it spends its fuel, much like a star. This is why most scientists believe Jupiter, with its massive gaseous size, could in fact be a star that failed to ignite.

The mystery of this story begins with a 1973 Pioneer 10 spacecraft that did a flyby and measured Jupiter’s temperature for the first time. Perplexing scientists, it showed the upper atmosphere is nearly 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, when it was predicted to be -100 degrees based on the lack solar heating from the sun, largely because the planet is about fives time further from the sun than Earth. A theory was created that the heat might be coming from Jupiter’s gargantuan auroras, the glow of charged particles accelerated along the magnetic field into the north and south polar regions , which were indeed even hotter at 1700 degrees Fahrenheit. But scientists have been confounded how could that heat be distributed north and south, causing a massive temperature rise in the middle, when the winds of the planet go east and west as seen in Jupiter’s tell tale bands.

James O’Donoghue, a research scientist at Boston University using a very small travel grant, used observations on the SpeX instrument, mounted on the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii to view Jupiter’s heat. Astronomers measure the temperature of a planet by observing the non-visible, infrared (IR) light it emits. O’Donoghue and his team think they have finally cracked the code. He discovered, using an infrared spectrometer observing the rare earth H3+ molecule, that the temperature of the upper atmosphere , 350 to 600 miles above the giant swirling storm, averages 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit!

Scientists in 1973 didn’t believe there was a connection between the Jovian low and high altitudes because of the great distance within the atmosphere of the planet. This temperature discovery shows this is untrue as a new theory has emerged that they are indeed connected in an unexpected manor. The theory is this GRS hotspot is created by thunderous soundwaves “breaking” in the thin upper reaches of the atmosphere. The gravity ‘shock’ waves from the energy of the lower storm are traveling upward up until they reach their end and snap like ocean waves hitting the shore creating a massive amount of sound and kinetic energy that heats the upper atmosphere.

“There is some evidence in Earth’s atmosphere, above storms and above features such as mountains – the Andes mountains in fact – that there are acoustic waves emanating from them, and that they propagate up into the atmosphere and cause heating there,” O’Donoghue said. They described their findings online July 27 in Nature

Filed under: Infrared,Technology — Tags: , , , , , , , — Lumistar @ 08:09