Io's Sodium Cloud

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Science  02 Nov 1984:
Vol. 226, Issue 4674, pp. 512-516
DOI: 10.1126/science.226.4674.512


The first two-dimensional images of the source region of Io's neutral sodium cloud have been acquired by ground-based observation. Observed asymmetries in its spatial brightness distribution provide new evidence that the cloud is supplied by sodium that is ejected nonisotropically from Io or its atmosphere. Complementary, high-time-resolution, calibrated image sequences that give the first comprehensive picture of the variations of the fainter regions of the cloud extending more than 105 kilometers from Io were also obtained. These data demonstrate that the cloud exhibits a persistent systematic behavior coupled with Io's orbital position, a distinct "east-west orbital asymmetry," a variety of spatial morphologies, and true temporal changes. The geometric stability of the sodium source is also indicated. Isolation of the cloud's temporal changes constitutes an important milestone toward its utilization as a long-term probe of Io and the inner Jovian magnetosphere.