Global upper-atmospheric heating on Jupiter by the polar aurorae

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Jupiter’s upper atmosphere is considerably hotter than expected from the amount of sunlight that it receives1–3. Processes that couple the magnetosphere to the atmosphere give rise to intense auroral emissions and enormous deposition of energy in the magnetic polar regions, so it has been presumed that redistribution of this energy could heat the rest of the planet4–6. Instead, most thermospheric global circulation models demonstrate that auroral energy is trapped at high latitudes by the strong winds on this rapidly rotating planet3,5,7–10. Consequently, other possible heat sources have continued to be studied, such as heating by gravity waves and acoustic waves emanating from the lower atmosphere2,11–13. Each mechanism would imprint a unique signature on the global Jovian temperature gradients, thus revealing the dominant heat source, but a lack of planet-wide, high-resolution data has meant that these gradients have not been determined. Here we report infrared spectroscopy of Jupiter with a spatial resolution of 2 degrees in longitude and latitude, extending from pole to equator. We find that temperatures decrease steadily from the auroral polar regions to the equator. Furthermore, during a period of enhanced activity possibly driven by a solar wind compression, a high-temperature planetary-scale structure was observed that may be propagating from the aurora. These observations indicate that Jupiter’s upper atmosphere is predominantly heated by the redistribution of auroral energy.




O’Donoghue, J., Moore, L., Bhakyapaibul, T., Melin, H., Stallard, T., Connerney, J. E. P., & Tao, C. (2021). Global upper-atmospheric heating on Jupiter by the polar aurorae. Nature, 596(7870), 54–57.

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