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This is an infrared image of Jupiter showing regions which are hot.
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The Source of Heat from Within Neptune

In astronomy, it is a usual procedure to calculate the luminosity of a star, and this calculation indicates the energy and the temperature of the star.

When the luminosity of the outer planets was calculated, that of Neptune was found to be relatively high, indicating that Neptune is giving off more energy than it is receiving from the sun. The same phenomena is seen at Jupiter and Saturn.

There are several ways in which astronomical objects produce energy from inside. The first is thermonuclear fusion. This method of energy production is reserved for stars. Another method is by way of radioactive material within the ground. This method is at work in most terrestrial bodies.

For the giant planets the method which seems to be at work is the mere fact that energy is given off from when a planetary body is in the process of shrinking together, or collapsing on itself.

The fact that Neptune is still collapsing together indicates that the process of planet formation is still going on. This process is providing the heat from within which causes the unusual motions in the atmosphere.


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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF