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Jupiter's Electric Moon Io
By Michael Goodspeed

In 1979, the space probe Voyager II imaged a spectacular profile of the Jovian moon Io, revealing what mission scientists believed to be active "volcanoes," with plumes jetting far into space. At the time, it was considered "probably the greatest surprise" of the Voyager flyby. "It appears that activity on Io affects the entire Jovian system," states a JPL fact sheet.
But at least one astrophysicist noted that the newly discovered "volcanoes" did not behave like volcanoes on Earth. Rather, they showed the distinctive features of electrical discharge. In the Journal Science (Nov 1979) Cornell University's Dr. Thomas Gold proposed that the plumes were provoked by an electrical exchange between Io and Jupiter. This was immediately disputed by a team of five scientists, including Gene Shoemaker, who argued that an electric discharge would be extremely hot -- much hotter than lava -- and that Earth-based instruments have not detected such temperatures. Dr. Gold wrote a rejoinder to Shoemaker, et al., which the journal Science chose not to publish.
Years later, plasma scientists Dr. Anthony Peratt and the distinguished Professor AJ Dessler, then at Rice University, followed up on Gold's suggestion. In the journal Astrophysics and Space Science, No. 144 (1988), the authors related the data on Io's "volcanoes" to the experimental work of Hannes Alfven, who had detailed the unique patterns of electrical discharge in laboratory experiments.
Peratt and Dessler recognized that the physics of Io's plumes answered directly to Alfvén's earlier research on the plasma gun, a device for concentrating electrical energy in an explosive jet.  In fact, the plumes on Io exhibit all of the specific features of the "penumbra" produced by such a discharge, including distinctive filamentation within the plumes and termination in a thin symmetrical ring. Even the ejection velocity of Io's "volcano" Prometheus can be predicted by the formula for calculating discharge velocities in a plasma gun. Describing the electrical phenomena in an article dedicated to Alfvén on his 80th birthday, Peratt and Dessler say, "The apparent filamentary penumbra on Io may be the first direct verification of the plasma gun mechanism at work in the solar system."
Prior to the Galileo probe's 1996 arrival in the Jovian system, electrical theorist Wallace Thornhill registered these advance claims:
* the vents of the "volcanic" plumes will be much hotter than lava;
* the plumes are the jets of cathode arcs, and they do not explode from a volcanic vent but move around and erode the periphery of dark areas (called "lava lakes" by planetary geologists);
* the "lava lakes" themselves are merely the solid surface of Io etched electrically by cathode arcs and exposed from beneath the "snow" deposited by continuous discharge activity. Therefore, they will not reveal the expected heat of a recent lava flow.
Each of these predictions received stunning confirmation. Io's "volcanic" hot spots were not only hotter than any lava on Earth, but were too hot to be measured by Galileo's instruments. Also as predicted by Thornhill, the discharging was found to be focused on the edges of the so-called "lava lakes," though the rest of these dark fields are comparatively cold. None of the expected volcanic vents could be found. Rather, some of the "volcanic" plumes are actually MOVING across the surface of Io! The plume of the "volcano" Prometheus has moved more than 80 kilometers since the Voyager mission.
Inspiring further astonishment amongst mission scientists, the "volcanic" plumes emit ultraviolet light -- something inconceivable under normal conditions of volcanic venting. But ultraviolet light is of course characteristic of an electric arc.
Temperatures from the imagined "molten lava" were hot enough to saturate Galileo's cameras. Mission scientists then colored in bleached out areas in the photographs, converting the images into what they expected to find. (From a NASA press release: "...surface flows shown in the color image were assembled as an interpretive drawing by Galileo scientists"). No "lava flow" ever witnessed has displayed temperatures so high as to produce the effect seen in the original Galileo image. But this did not persuade the investigators to reconsider any of their previous assumptions about the "volcanoes." (See NASA's X-mas Coloring Book,
More recently, observations have added direct confirmation to the electrical connection between Jupiter and Io. A recent image of the Tvashtar "volcano" near the north pole of Io reveals a plume extending 290 kilometers above the surface. The language of the NASA report strikingly features the language of the electrical theorists:
"The remarkable filamentary structure in the Tvashtar plume is similar to details glimpsed faintly in 1979 Voyager images of a similar plume produced by Io's volcano Pele. However, no previous image by any spacecraft has shown these MYSTERIOUS STRUCTURES so clearly." (emphasis added). (See Electric Io Revisited,
"Filamentary structure" simply does not belong in "volcanic" plumes, but as noted by Gold, Peratt, and Dessler, it is a distinctive feature of the "penumbra" of an electric discharge.
Space scientists have come to "depend" on Io's "volcanoes" to account for the extraordinary electrical activity witnessed in Jupiter's atmosphere. Many claim that charged particles from Io's "volcanoes" are responsible for the Jovian auroras, which are 1000 times more intense than anything seen on Earth. In this scenario, the profuse electrical activity at Jupiter's poles -- approximately 10 MILLION volts -- is generated mechanically by the planet's SPIN (again, no thought must be given to any external, electrical power source). Ions from the "volcanoes" on Io are thought to "somehow" travel to the planet's poles, then interact with the magnetic spin-generated electricity to create an extraordinary "charge exchange" producing the auroras.
The NASA statement (which quotes investigator Randy Gladstone) reads:
"The polar electric fields grab any charged particles they can find and slam them into the atmosphere. Particles for slamming can come from the sun, but Jupiter has another, more abundant source nearby: the volcanic moon Io, which spews oxygen and sulfur ions (O+ and S+) into Jupiter's spinning magnetic field.
"Somehow, these ions make their way to Jupiter's poles where electric fields send them hurtling toward the planet below. Upon entering the atmosphere, 'their electrons are first stripped away by molecules they run into, but as they slow down they start grabbing electrons back. The 'charge exchange reaction' produces intense X-ray auroras,' he explains."
This rationale is at once obscure and unsupported. The problem arises from their assumption that Jupiter itself has no net charge. But since it is BEHAVING like a charged body, they look to localized, mechanically induced "charge separation" -- as if an "island" in space, through some internal process, can miraculously acquire and dissipate electric charge.
What is actually occurring is an electrical connection between the Sun, Jupiter, and its moons, and recent discoveries have revealed this in no uncertain terms. When scientists discovered the most prominent auroral trail, or "footprint of Io," in the Jovian atmosphere, they assumed it must be an effect of "charge separation" generated by Io's "volcanoes." However, this theory was undermined in 2005, when Hubble images of the Jovian aurora revealed a similar "footprint" of Europa and its swirling tail.
A research team from the University of Liege, Belgium wrote of this discovery: "Europa is not thought to be volcanic, so what could produce the electrical current that zips along and eventually gives rise to Europa's auroral footprint?"
By incorrectly assuming that Io's "volcanos" generate the electric current between that moon and Jupiter, the authors of the 2005 report miss the point: Europa's electrical footprint in the Jovian aurora is a huge warning that the assumptions astrophysicists have applied to such enigmas can only create contradictions.
As if to underscore the point, NASA investigators found that the electrical exchange does not stop with Europa. It includes the third moon Ganymede as well. NASA's Hubble Telescope website now shows an image of the Jovian aurora, with three electrical footprints named, including that from the interaction with Jupiter's third moon. Thus, the original argument that conjectured "volcanoes" produced the signature of electrical transactions in the Jovian auroras has been fully FALSIFIED. The Io plumes are the RESULT of electrical transactions between Jupiter and Io.
A further exclamation point to the Io surprises comes from an analysis of the charged-particles surrounding the satellite. In 2000, scientists were "surprised" to discover an abundance of sulfur monoxide in Io's "plasma torus." This contradicted their expectations, since it is sulfur dioxide, not monoxide, that should be the "dominant molecule" in the supposedly "volcanically" active world.
According to the <http://Space.com>Space.com report, "Sulfur Molecules Around Io Surprise Scientists": "The results privately puzzled Galileo scientists because they defied expectations. Just when they thought they had an understanding of Io's atmosphere all worked out, Galileo picked up a strong signature of a gas that was thought to be only a minor component in Io's environment."
The report then quotes a mission scientist who openly expresses his perturbation: "Whenever you find something that you don't expect. That's always an important thing to underline because that indicates that the model that you were working with has something that is not right in it."
While this kind of candor is appreciated, nothing indicates that scientists have returned to the fundamental question first posed by Gold: Are Io's high energy plumes electrical in nature?
For background into the realm of the Jovian moons, see http://www.thunderbolts.info/tpod/00subjectx.htm#Moons


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