Io's sodium emission cloud and the voyager 1 encounter

B. A. Goldberg*, Yu Mekler, R. W. Carlson, T. V. Johnson, D. L. Matson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Io's neutral sodium emission cloud was monitored during the period of Voyager 1 encounter from two independent ground-based sites. Observations from Table Mountain Observatory verified the continued existence of the “near-Io cloud” (d < 1.5 × 105 km, for 4πI 〉 1 kR; R denotes Rayleigh) while those from Wise Observatory showed a deficiency in the weaker emission at greater distances from Io. The sodium cloud has been monitored from both observatories for several years. These and other observations demonstrate that the behavior of the cloud is complex since it undergoes a variety of changes, both systematic and secular, which can have both time and spatial dependencies. The cloud also displays some characteristics of stability. Table Mountain images and high-dispersion spectra (resolution ∼0.2 Å) indicate that the basic shape and intensity of the “near cloud” have remained relatively constant at least since imaging observations began in 1976. Wise Observatory low-dispersion spectra (resolution ∼1 Å) which have been obtained since 1974 demonstrate substantial variability of the size and intensity of the “far cloud” (d ≳ 1.5 × 105 km) on a time scale of months or less. Corresponding changes in the state of the plasma associated with the Io torus are suggested, with the period of Voyager 1 encounter represented as a time of unusually high plasma temperature and/or density. Dynamic models of the sodium cloud employing Voyager 1 plasma data provide a reasonable fit to the Table Mountain encounter images. The modeling assumptions of anisotropic ejection of neutral sodium atoms from the leading, inner hemisphere of Io with a velocity distribution characteristic of sputtering adequately explain the overall intensity distribution of the “near cloud”. During the Voyager 1 encounter period there appeared a region of enhanced intensity projecting outward from Io's orbit and inclined to the orbital plane. This region is clearly distinguished from the sodium emission normally aligned with the plane of Io's orbit. The process responsible for this phenomenon is not yet understood. Similar but less pronounced features are also present in several Table Mountain images obtained over the past few years.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)305-317
Number of pages13
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1980
Externally publishedYes


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