Ionosphere-Thermosphere Coupling in Jupiter's Low Latitudes
Abstract:One of the leading problems in our understanding of Jupiter's atmosphere, known colloquially as the 'energy crisis', is that the upper atmosphere has global temperatures far in excess of that predicted by solar heating. Unlike the Earth, solar heating has only a small effect on the thermosphere, varying little in temperature with local time, and with equatorial neutrals co-rotating with the planet due to meridional advection. Within the auroral region, ionosphere-thermosphere coupling produces strong flows and results in huge Joule Heating from auroral currents. In this region, the temperature excess can be explained, but Jupiter's fast rotation means that Coriolis forces prevent energy in the poles from transferring equatorward, so there remains no explanation of why low latitudes are overheated by a factor of 3-5 over that predicted by solar heating alone.
Despite this anomaly, although the past twenty years has seen a wealth of new data and results in Jupiter's auroral region, studies of the equatorial region have been somewhat limited. This lack of investigation comes partly from the apparent uniform nature of the equatorial region, and partly from the difficulty in observing this region. It is only in the past three years that observers begun to re-examine this region, revealing evidence of complex interactions between the thermosphere and ionosphere, including what appears to be thermospheric weather patterns at a fixed planetary longitudes, stable over two decades; perhaps caused by continuous flows from the auroral region.
Here, we introduce our recent research, in order to compare and contrast what has been observed at Jupiter with the more well understood interactions between Earth's ionosphere and thermosphere. We hope that this will open a discussion between the communities that will improve our understanding of the underlying physical processes, as they occur at both planets.