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Astronomy Picture of the Day
Index - Solar System: Jupiter's Moons

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Editor's choices for the most educational Astronomy Pictures of the Day about Jupiter's Moons:

Thumbnail image.  Click to load APOD for this date. APOD: 2001 July 31 - Oceans Under Jupiters Callisto
Explanation: Why does Jupiter's moon Callisto alter the magnetic field of Jupiter in its vicinity? Callisto itself does not have a strong magnetic field. One possible answer is that Callisto harbors sub-surface oceans of electrically conducting salt-water. This hypothesis was bolstered recently by a new analysis of how Callisto creates and dissipates heat. Callisto is thought to create heat by the radioactive decay of internal rock -- a process that keeps the Earth's mantle molten. Callisto may not be able to dissipate this heat very efficiently, however, as it has thick layers of ice and rock on its surface. Perhaps this heat is enough to keep sub-surface water from freezing into ice. With this hypothesis, Callisto joins two other of Jupiter's moons, Europa and Ganymede, in candidates for sub-surface oceans. Callisto's oceans, however, might prove too hostile to support Earth-like life.

Thumbnail image.  Click to load APOD for this date. APOD: 2001 January 16 - Europa Rotating
Explanation: Evidence has been mounting that beneath the vast planes of ice that cover Europa lies water -- liquid oceans that might be home to alien life. The smallest of Jupiter's Galilean Moons (which include Io, Ganymede, and Callisto), Europa's deep interior is composed of mostly of silicate rock. Upon close inspection, many surface cracks stop abruptly only to continue on somewhere else -- indicating surface plates that might be sliding. The above time-lapse sequence is a composite of images taken during the Voyager spacecraft flyby of the moon twenty years ago. Not all regions are resolved in high detail. The movie shows Europa during a complete rotation, which corresponds to a complete revolution around Jupiter since Europa always keeps the same face toward the giant planet. The cause of many of the surface colors on Europa also remains a topic of research.

Thumbnail image.  Click to load APOD for this date. APOD: 1999 March 4 - Ganymede Mosaic
Explanation: Ganymede, one of the four Galilean moons of Jupiter, is the largest moon in the Solar System. With a diameter of 5,260 kilometers it is even larger than planets Mercury and Pluto and just over three quarters the size of Mars. Ganymede is locked in synchronous rotation with Jupiter. This detailed mosaic of images from the Galileo spacecraft shows the trailing hemisphere of this planet-sized moon. Speckled with bright young craters, Ganymede's surface shows a mixture of old, dark, cratered terrain and lighter regions laced with grooves and ridges. Ganymede's true colors tend toward subtle browns and grays, but this mosaic's colors have been enhanced to increase surface contrasts. The violet shades extending from the top and bottom are likely due to frost particles in Ganymede's polar regions.

Thumbnail image.  Click to load APOD for this date. APOD: 2002 December 18 - Io Volcano Culann Patera
Explanation: What causes the unusual colors surrounding Io's volcanoes? Io, the innermost large moon of Jupiter, is known to be the most tumultuous body in the Solar System. Approximately the size of Earth's Moon, Io undergoes nearly continuous volcanic eruptions from an interior heated by gravitational tides from Jupiter and Jupiter's other large moons. The robot spacecraft Galileo currently orbiting Jupiter has been monitoring the active volcano Culann Patera over the past few years. The above images indicate that the volcano has produced not only red and black colored lava flows, but yellow sulfur patches from explosive plumes. Green colors may arise when these processes affect the same terrain. White patches may be caused, in part, by sulfur dioxide snow. As Galileo has fulfilled its mission objectives and is running low on maneuvering fuel, NASA plans to crash the spacecraft into Jupiter during 2003.

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
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