During an eclipse of Jupiter's moon Io on January 1, 2001, NASA's Cassini spacecraft recorded glows from auroras and volcanoes on Io.
The camera on Cassini captured images of eclipsed Io in several colors ranging from the near-ultraviolet to the near-infrared. A black-and-white movie clip of 48 clear-filter frames spanning two hours during the eclipse was released on February 5 (PIA02882). Here, two colors have been added to show the type of evidence used by imaging scientists in determining the source of Io's auroral glows. The color pictures were taken at lower resolution -- 120 kilometers (75 miles) per pixel rather than 60 kilometers(37 miles) per pixel -- and less frequently than the clear-filter images. White dots near the equator are volcanoes, some of which are much brighter than the faint atmospheric glows. The brightest of them is the volcano Pele.
Emissions of light (at wavelengths of 595 to 645 nanometers) likely arise from a tenuous atmosphere of oxygen. These glows would appear red to the eye and are consequently colored red in the movie. Emissions in near-ultraviolet wavelengths (between 300 and 380 nanometers), corresponding wavelength to the bright blue visible glows one would expect from sulfur dioxide. They have been colored blue in the movie. The blue glows are restricted to areas deep down in the atmosphere near the surface of Io, while the red glows are much more extensive, reaching heights of up to 900 kilometers (560 miles). This would be expected if the blue glows are indeed produced by sulfur dioxide, since sulfur dioxide molecules are heavier than oxygen atoms, so are more closely bound to the surface by gravity. The prominent blue and red regions near the equator of Io dance across the moon with the changing orientation of Jupiter's magnetic field, illustrating the relationship between Io's auroras and the electric currents that excite them.
A faint blue emission is visible near the north pole of Io, possibly due to a volcanic plume erupting from the volcano Tvashtar at high northern latitude on the side of Io opposite Cassini. This eruption, observed by both Galileo and Cassini, left an enormous red ring around Tvashtar, visible in image PIA02588, released on March 29, 2001.
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 Cassini for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.