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Auroras as seen from the surface of Jupiter's moon Io; gas giant; jovian planet; allotropes of sulfur; volcanoes; explosive volcanism; tidal heating; tidal dissipation - Space Art Illustration

 

Aurorae on Io

Io is host to brilliant aurorae, much brighter and extensive than aurorae on Earth. Some of these aurorae are believed to originate from Io's many volcanic plumes.

In this view from Io's equator a dazzling blue and green aurora fills the night sky. Beyond the aurora can be seen a crescent Jupiter, and below that at a distance of 600 thousand miles is a crescent Europa.*

It is unlikely that any visitor--human or mechanical--will ever witness this spectacle from Io's surface. The same processes that generate these brilliant aurorae also make Io a very harsh world. Io's proximity to Jupiter brings it into contact with swarms of charged particles trapped by Jupiter's magnetic field, similar to the Van Allen radiation belts surrounding the Earth. In addition, a powerful electric current flows from Io to the poles of Jupiter, caused by an enormous electrical potential generated by the motion of the jovian magnetic field past Io. This intense radiation would quickly incinerate the electronics of any spacecraft that landed on Io, not to mention the living cells of a human being.

* Note that no such discrete cracking of a lava crust, as illustrated here, has yet been observed on Io's surface and is therefore presented solely as a theoretical possibility by the artist.

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Copyright Walter B. Myers. All rights reserved.

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