These two images, taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, show Jupiter in a near-infrared wavelength, and catch Europa, one of Jupiter's largest moons, at different phases.
Cassini's narrow-angle camera took both images, the upper one from a distance of 69.9 million kilometers (43.4 million miles) on Oct. 17, 2000, and the lower one from a distance of 65.1 million kilometers (40.4 million miles) on Oct. 22, 2000. Both were taken at a wavelength of 727 nanometers, which is in the near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum.
The camera's 727-nanometer filter accepts only a narrow spectral range centered on a relatively strong absorption feature due to methane gas. In this spectral region, the amount of light reflected by Jupiter's clouds is only half that reflected in a nearby spectral region outside the methane band. The features that are brightest in these images are the highest and thickest clouds, such as the Great Red Spot and the band of clouds girding the equator, as these scatter sunlight back to space before it has a chance to be absorbed by the methane gas in the atmosphere. This stratigraphic effect can be seen even more prominently in an image released on Oct. 23, 2000, taken in the stronger methane band at 889 nanometers, in which the only bright features are the highest hazes over the equator, the poles and the Great Red Spot. By comparing images taken in the 727 nanometer filter with others taken at 889 nanometers and at a weaker methane band at 619 nanometers, researchers will probe the heights and thickness of clouds in Jupiter's atmosphere.
Europa, a satellite of Jupiter about the size of Earth's Moon, is visible to the left of Jupiter in the upper image, and in front of the planet in the lower image. Another of Jupiter's Galilean satellites, Ganymede, which is larger than the planet Mercury, is to the right in the upper image, with brightness variations visible across its surface. In the upper image, Europa is caught entering Jupiter's shadow, and hence appears as a bright crescent; in the lower image, it is seen about one-and-a-half orbits later, in transit across the face of the planet. Because there is neither methane nor any strong absorber in this spectral region on the surface of Europa, it appears strikingly white and bright compared to Jupiter.
Imaging observations of the moons Europa, Io and Ganymede entering and passing through Jupiter's shadow are planned for the two-week period surrounding Cassini's closest approach on Dec. 30, 2000. The purpose of these eclipse observations is to detect and measure the variability of emissions that arise from the interaction of the satellites' tenuous atmospheres with the charged particles trapped in Jupiter's magnetic field.
At the times these images were taken, Cassini was about 3.3 degrees above Jupiter's equatorial plane, and the Sun-Jupiter-spacecraft angle was about 20 degrees.
Cassini is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Cassini mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.