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The Ionosphere of Europa from Galileo Radio Occultations

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Science  18 Jul 1997:
Vol. 277, Issue 5324, pp. 355-358
DOI: 10.1126/science.277.5324.355

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Abstract

The Galileo spacecraft performed six radio occultation observations of Jupiter's Galilean satellite Europa during its tour of the jovian system. In five of the six instances, these occultations revealed the presence of a tenuous ionosphere on Europa, with an average maximum electron density of nearly 104 per cubic centimeter near the surface and a plasma scale height of about 240 ± 40 kilometers from the surface to 300 kilometers and of 440 ± 60 kilometers above 300 kilometers. Such an ionosphere could be produced by solar photoionization and jovian magnetospheric particle impact in an atmosphere having a surface density of about 108 electrons per cubic centimeter. If this atmosphere is composed primarily of O2, then the principal ion is O2 + and the neutral atmosphere temperature implied by the 240-kilometer scale height is about 600 kelvin. If it is composed of H2O, the principal ion is H3O+ and the neutral temperature is about 340 kelvin. In either case, these temperatures are much higher than those observed on Europa's surface, and an external heating source from the jovian magnetosphere is required.

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