Molecular Origin of Io's Fast Sodium

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Science  20 Sep 1991:
Vol. 253, Issue 5026, pp. 1394-1397
DOI: 10.1126/science.253.5026.1394


Neutral sodium emissions encircling Jupiter exhibit an intricate and variable structure that is well matched by a simple loss process from Io's atmosphere. These observations imply that fast neutral sodium is created locally in the Io plasma torus, both near Io and as much as 8 hours downstream. Sodium-bearing molecules may be present in Io's upper atmosphere, where they are ionized by the plasma torus and swept downstream. The molecular ions dissociate and dissociatively recombine on a short time scale, releasing neutral fragments into escape trajectories from Jupiter. This theory explains a diverse set of sodium observations, and it implies that molecular reactions (particularly electron impact ionization and dissociation) are important at the top of Io's atmosphere.