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(P-9) Io and Other Moons of Jupiter


9a. Earth orbits Sun?

9b. The Planets
P--1 Links and Tables
P--2   Mercury
P--3 Venus
P--4 Earth
P--5 Mars
P--5A Phobos
       a work of fiction
P--6 Asteroids
P--7 Jupiter
P--8 Io and other
        Jupiter moons
P--9 Saturn
P--10 Telescopes
P--11 Uranus
P--12 Neptune
P--13 Pluto & Kuiper Belt
P--14 Comets and more

9c. Copernicus
        to Galileo

10. Kepler's Laws

    In early 1610 Galileo's, using his first telescope, observed 3 and then 4 satellites shuttling back and forth along a straight line through Jupiter--obviously, satellites sharing (almost) the same orbital plane, also close to the plane of the ecliptic. Were it not for the glare of the planet, they would be just barely visible to the eye on a dark night. He called them "Medicean stars" after the Medici family, rulers of Florence, whose patronage he sought (he got it, but unfortunately that made him leave Venice, where he was protected from the pope's reach). They are now named (in order of distance--left to right in the illustration above) Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, after illicit loves of Jupiter (or Zeus, his Greek counterpart); quite a few moons discovered later also bear names of such lovers, of which mythology has left a long list.

    The three outer moons are icy, but innermost Io has an interesting history. Since it moves quite rapidly, it enters and exits eclipses within a minute or so, making such eclipses useful as timing signals in an era when clocks were too inaccurate for navigation. The story of how Olaf Roemer tried to tabulate such eclipses and obtained (for the first time) an estimate of the velocity of light is told elsewhere in this web collection.

    The modern chapter of Io research began in 1955, when a radio-astronomy experiment Ken Franklin and Bernie Burke discovered a strange celestial radio source which kept shifting its position. It turned out to be Jupiter, and later observations on the Earth's own magnetosphere suggested the signals came from a dense population of trapped particles. Those emissions however were not completely random--in part they required a specific position of Io relative to the Jupiter-Earth line.

The Moon Io     Pioneer 10 and 11 observed Jupiter's radiation belt, but the high radiation intensity frustrated detailed observations of Io. Voyager 1 passed close to Io on March 5, 1979 and found it to be the most active volcanic body in the solar system. That happened just a few weeks after an article in "Science" (by Peale, Cassen and Reynolds) predicted Io's interior to be heated by alternate squeezing due to the gravity of Europa and Ganymede.

    To the Voyager 1 camera Io presented a strange surface of colored volcanic deposits (like the image shown here, taken by "Galileo" on 7 September 1996). Then one of the engineers, Linda Morabito, looked at the edge of the planet and discovered a huge glowing fountain rising above it. Later other active, glowing volcanic vents were also located.

    Io's volcanoes may be the source of many of the ions in Jupiter's magnetosphere, and they also account for the "Io torus," a ring of glowing sodium atoms tracing Io's orbit. They also seem to be the source of Io's ionosphere, though the satellite itself may also be a fair conductor of electricity. Either or both of these make possible an electric circuit, linking Io and Jupiter's ionosphere, with Jupiter's magnetic field lines creating a conducting link, since electric conductivity in a plasma proceeds easily along such lines.

    In a circuit of this sort, where one conductor moves relative to the other in a way which (at least in part) cuts across magnetic field lines, a dynamo effect is created, using energy of the relative motion to generate an electric current. The Io dynamo is an example of this, too, though here the main cause of the motion is not the orbital motion of Io--rather, it is the rotation of plasma trapped in Jupiter's magnetic field, forced by electromagnetic forces ("freezing of field lines to the plasma") to keep step with the fast rotation of the planet.

    Voyager 2, passing Io on July 9, 1997, was steered to cross those field lines, and detected the magnetic disturbance of its currents, which also seem to be the cause of the modulated radio emission. Where the currents intersect the ionosphere of Jupiter, an intense polar aurora is created--a process somewhat similar to the one responsible for aurora near Earth. The fact that multiple auroral bands have been observed suggests that magbe other moons of Jupiter also generate dynamo action.

    As noted earlier, to date 63 satellites of Jupiter have been tallied. The other big ones, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, are icy and have strange markings, including "palimpsest craters," ring-like structures due to impacts which probably once created crater walls like those on our own Moon, but which sagged to the surface, leaving only an outline marking, because ice tends to flow under gravity (as it does in glaciers on Earth). Some researchers have found indications of a briny ocean beneath Europa's frozen surface, but the likelihood of it harboring life seems small

Next Planet:     #P-9   Saturn

Next Stop (following "The Planets"): #9c   The Discovery of the Solar System, from Copernicus to Galileo

            Timeline                     Glossary                     Back to the Master List

Author and Curator:   Dr. David P. Stern
     Mail to Dr.Stern:   stargaze("at" symbol) .

Last updated: 18 February 2008