High Winds of Neptune: A Possible Mechanism

Science  22 Feb 1991:
Vol. 251, Issue 4996, pp. 929-932
DOI: 10.1126/science.251.4996.929


Neptune receives only 1/900th of the earth's solar energy, but has wind speeds of nearly 600 meters per second. How the near-supersonic winds can be maintained has been a puzzle. A plausible mechanism, based on principles of angular momentum and energy conservation in conjunction with deep convection, leads to a regime of uniform angular momentum at low latitudes. In this model, the rapid retrograde winds observed are a manifestation of deep convection, and the high efficiency of the planet's heat engine is intrinsic from the room allowed at low latitudes for reversible processes, the high temperatures at which heat is added to the atmosphere, and the low temperatures at which heat is extracted.