When a Moon Makes a World of a Difference

Io and Jupiter - a dynamic pair…

The Earth’s Van Allen belts are the location for some of the most fearsome particles in space. Highly energetic particles from the Sun get trapped in the layers of the magnetosphere, setting them up for an injection of waves causing acceleration and heating. This naturally causes concern for astronauts and spacecraft passing out of the atmosphere and into this bubble of radiation only 200 miles above the surface. But spare a thought for any spacecraft passing through Jupiter’s magnetic field. The energetic particles there are far more powerful, plus one of the Jovian moons has a huge part to play, generating the plasma waves accelerating the particles even more…

In a recent article, “Jupiter has Van Allen Belts too, Just Bigger; Implications for Space Weather Prediction“, I discussed some Galileo data that has recently come to light. The Jupiter probe orbited the planet for eight years and was eventually crashed into the gas giant atmosphere. Before the spacecraft came to a crushing end, it collected valuable data about Jupiter’s magnetosphere (obviously vastly more powerful than the Earth’s) and the particles trapped inside. Jupiter’s “Van Allen Belts” are also highly variable, much like the Earths, but with one critical difference, the influence of Jovian moon, Io.

The footprints of Jupiters moons in auroral displays (credit: HST/NASA)

Io is still a highly active moon, blasting vast quantities of dust and gas into space as it undergoes immense gravitational stresses from its orbit around Jupiter. High temperatures are maintained by this gravitational sheer, assuring the largest volcanoes in the Solar System remain active. Io spews so much dust that it is captured by Jupiter’s magnetic fieldlines and forced into Jupiter’s poles. Highly charged and highly energetic, Io’s dust particles impact the Jovian atmosphere producing light. Jupiter’s aurorae are highly dynamic and patterned showing the “footprint” of Io’s dust (pictured). It also appears that Io’s orbit generates plasma waves capable of energizing Jupiter’s Van Allen belts…

Find out more at the Universe Today

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