I hear that Jupiter and Saturn emit more energy than they receive from the Sun. This excess energy is supposedly due to contraction.

  • Is this accepted as fact (or is it controversial)?
  • Does this mean that Jupiter is shrinking a little bit (its diameter decreases), or are there just changes in the internal density distribution?

The book Jupiter: The Planet, Satellites and Magnetosphere, edited by Fran Bagenal, Timothy Dowling, and William McKinnon has, in its third chapter, the text: "[Jupiter] is still contracting at a rate of ~3 cm per year while its interior cools by ~1 K per million year."

The chapter does not give a specific source for that, but the chapter has an extensive list of references. I believe that the subject first came up in 1966 in a paper by Low who measured the infrared heat flux to be 1.9 times the incident solar. I was under the impression that this has been measured, but I was unable to find a direct reference to this; at this point it is likely to be a model and that's the amount required for the observed level of heating. One early paper that modeled this is by W.B. Hubbard in the journal Icarus, published in 1977 under the title "The Jovian surface condition and cooling rate."

  • $\begingroup$ P.S. I'm at work at the moment and this book is at home. I can check more several few hours. $\endgroup$ Oct 28 '11 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for answering. 3 cm/year. Naively extending this rate to geologic timescales: Thats 135000 km in 4.5 Billion years. Jupiter's diameter today is 142000 km. That would mean that when the Earth was primeval, Jupiter was nearly twice as big (albeit less dense)! $\endgroup$
    – knb
    Oct 28 '11 at 20:50
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @knb That would be true presuming the contraction rate is constant (linear)… I have a feeling it isn't. $\endgroup$
    – ghoppe
    Nov 3 '11 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ @ghoppe In the past, at lower densities, the contraction rate was probably even higher :-) $\endgroup$
    – knb
    Nov 9 '11 at 8:52

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