Monte Carlo simulation of the Jovian plasma torus interaction with Io’s atmosphere and the resultant aurora during eclipse

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Moore, Christopher Hudson

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Io, the innermost Galilean satellite of Jupiter, exhibits a wide variety of complex phenomena such as interaction with Jupiter’s magnetosphere, volcanic activity, and a rarefied multi-species sublimating and condensing atmosphere with an ionosphere. Io’s orbital resonance with Jupiter and the other Galilean satellites produces intense tidal heating. This makes Io the most volcanically active body in the solar system with plumes that rise hundreds of kilometers above the surface. In the present work, the interaction of Io’s atmosphere with the Jovian plasma torus is simulated via the Direct Simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) method and the aurora produced via electron-neutral excitation collisions is examined using electron transport Monte Carlo simulation.

The electron-transport Monte Carlo simulation models the electron collisions with the neutral atmosphere and their transport along field lines as they sweep past Io, using a pre-computed steady atmosphere and magnetic field. As input to the Monte Carlo simulation, the neutral atmosphere was first modeled using prior 2D sunlit continuum simulations of Io’s atmosphere produced by others. In order to justify the use of a sunlit atmosphere for eclipse, 1D two-species (SO2 and a non-condensable) DSMC simulations of Io’s atmospheric dynamics during and immediately after eclipse were performed. It was found that the inclusion of a non-condensable species (SO or O2) leads to the formation of a diffusion layer which prevents rapid collapse. The degree to which the diffusion layer slowed the atmospheric collapse was found to be extremely sensitive to both the initial non-condensable mole fraction and the reaction (or sticking) probability on the surface of the “non-condensable”. Furthermore, upon egress, vertical stratification of the atmosphere occurred with the non-condensable species being lifted to higher altitudes by the rapid sublimation of SO2 as the surface warms.

Simulated aurorae (specifically the [OI] 6300 Å and the S2, SO, and SO2 molecular band emission in the middle ultraviolet) show good agreement with observations of Io in eclipse and an attempt was made to use the simulations to constrain the upstream torus electron temperature and Io’s atmospheric composition, structure, and volcanic activity. It is found that the position of the bright [OI] 6300 Å wake spot relative to Io’s equator depends on the position of Io relative to the plasma torus’ equator and the asymmetric electron number flux that results. Using HST/STIS UV-Vis spectra, the upstream electron temperature is weakly constrained to be between 3 eV and 8 eV depending on the flux of a low energy (35 eV), non-thermal component of the plasma (more non-thermal flux requires lower thermal plasma temperatures to fit the spectrum). Furthermore, an upper limit of 5% of the thermal torus density (or 180 cm−3 based on the Galileo J0 plasma density at Io) is obtained for the low energy non-thermal component of the plasma. These limits are consistent with Galileo observations of the upstream torus temperature and estimates for the the non-thermal component. Finally, plume activity and S2 content during eclipse observations with HST/STIS were constrained by examining the emission intensity along the spatial axis of the aperture. During the August 1999 UV-Vis observations, the auroral simulations indicate that the large volcanoes Pele and Surt were inactive whereas Tvashtar was active and that Dazhbog and possibly Loki were also actively venting gas. The S2 content inferred for the large Pele-type plumes was between 5% (Tvashtar) and 30% (Loki, if active), consistent with prior observations (Spencer et al., 2000; Jessup et al., 2007).

A 3D DSMC simulation of Io’s sublimation and sputtered atmosphere including photo- and plasma-chemistry was developed. In future work these atmospheric simulations will replace the continuum target atmosphere in the auroral model and thus enable a better match to the observed high altitude auroral emission. In the present work, the plasma interaction is modeled by a flux of ions and electrons which flow around and through Io’s atmosphere along pre-computed fields and interact with the neutral gas. A 3D DSMC simulation of Io’s atmosphere assuming a simple thermal model for the surface just prior to ingress into eclipse and uniform frost coverage has been performed in order to understand how Io’s general atmospheric dynamics are affected by the new plasma model with chemistry and sputtering. Sputtering was found to supply most of the nightside atmosphere (producing an SO2 column of ~5×1013 cm−2); however, the dense dayside sublimation atmosphere was found to block sputtering of the surface. The influence of the dynamic plasma pressure on the day-to-night circumplanetary flow was found to be quite substantial causing the day-to-night wind across the dawn terminator to flow slightly towards the equator. This results in a region of high density near the equator that extends far (~2000 km for the condensable species) onto the nightside across the dawn terminator. Thus, even without thermal lag due to rotation or variable surface frost, highly asymmetric equatorial column densities relative to the subsolar point are obtained. The non-condensable O2, which is a trace species on the dayside, is the dominant species on the nightside despite increased SO2 sputtering because the loss rate of O2 is slow. Finally, a very intriguing O2 flow feature was observed near the dusk terminator where the flow from the leading hemisphere (pushed by the plasma) meets the flow from the dayside trailing hemisphere. Since the O2 does not condense on the surface, it slowly convects towards the poles and then back onto the nightside, eventually to be dissociated or stripped away by the plasma.



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