The role of H+3 in planetary atmospheres

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Spectroscopic studies of the upper atmospheres of the giant planets using infrared wavelengths sensitive to the H+3 molecular ion show that this species plays a critical role in determining the physical conditions there. For Jupiter, we propose that the recently detected H+3 electrojet holds the key to the mechanism by which the equatorial plasma sheet is kept in (partial) co-rotation with the planet, and that this mechanism also provides a previously unconsidered source of energy that helps explain why the jovian thermosphere is considerably hotter than expected. For Saturn, we show that the H+3 auroral emission is ca. 1% of that of Jupiter because of the lower ionospheric/thermospheric temperature and the lower flux of ionizing particles precipitated there; it is probably unnecessary to invoke additional chemistry in the auroral/polar regions. For Uranus, we report further evidence that its emission intensity is controlled by the cycle of solar activity. And we propose that H+3 emission may just be detectable using current technology from some of the giant extra-solar planets that have been detected orbiting nearby stars, such as Tau Bootes.




Miller, S., Achilleos, N., Ballester, G. E., Geballe, T. R., Joseph, R. D., Prangé, R., … Waite, J. H. (2000). The role of H+3 in planetary atmospheres. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 358(1774), 2485–2502.

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