Jupiter

Its Moons and Rings

At least 63 natural satellites orbit Jupiter. They are conveniently divided into six main groups (in order of increasing distance from the planet): Amalthea, Galilean, Himalia, Ananke, Carme, and Pasiphae. The first group is comprised of the four innermost satellites—Metis, Adrastea, Amalthea, and Thebe. The red color of Amalthea (diameter: 117 mi/189 km), a small, elongated satellite discovered (1892) by Edward Barnard, probably results from a coating of sulfur particles ejected from Io. Metis (diameter: 25 mi/40 km), Adrastea (diameter: 12 mi/20 km), and Thebe (diameter: 62 mi/100 km) are all oddly shaped and were discovered in 1979 in photographs returned to earth by the Voyager 1 space probe. Metis and Adrastea orbit close to Jupiter's thin ring system; material ejected from these moons helps maintain the ring.

The four largest satellites—Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto—were discovered by Galileo in 1610, shortly after he invented the telescope, and are known as the Galilean satellite group. Io (diameter: 2,255 mi/3,630 km), the closest to Jupiter of the four, is the most active geologically, with 30 active volcanoes that are probably energized by the tidal effects of Jupiter's enormous mass. Europa (diameter: 1,960 mi/3,130 km) is a white, highly reflecting body whose smooth surface is covered with dark streaks up to 43 mi/70 km in width and from several hundred to several thousand miles in length. Ganymede (diameter: 3,268 mi/5,262 km), second most distant of the four and the largest satellite in the solar system, has heavily cratered regions, tens of miles across, that are surrounded by younger, grooved terrain. Callisto (diameter: 3,000 mi/4,806 km), the most distant and the least active geologically of the four, has a heavily cratered surface. Themisto (diameter: 5 mi/8 km) orbits Jupiter midway between the Galilean and next main group of satellites, the Himalias. The Himalia group consists of five tightly clustered satellites with orbits outside that of Callisto— Leda (diameter: 6 mi/10 km), Himalia (diameter: 106 mi/170 km), Lysithea (diameter: 15 mi/24 km), Elara (diameter: 50 mi/80 km), and S/2000 J11 (diameter: 2.5 mi/4 km). These 14 inner satellites are regular, that is, their orbits are relatively circular, near equatorial, and prograde, i.e., moving in the same orbital direction as the planet. Almost all of the remainder are irregular in that their orbits are large, elliptical, inclined to that of the planet, and usually retrograde, i.e., motion opposite to that of the planet's rotation. (Jupiter's irregular satellites are distinguished from the regular by the spelling of their names, which all end in the letter "e".)

Situated between the Himalia and Ananke groups is Carpo (diameter: 2 mi/3 km), which like Thermisto doesn't seem to fit into any of the main groups. The Ananke group comprises 17 satellites, which share similar orbits and range from 1.2 to 2.5 mi (2–4 km) in diameter except for two: S/2003 J12, Euporie, Orthosie, Euanthe, Thyone, Mneme, Harpalyke, Hermippe, Praxidike (diameter: 4.5 mi/7 km), Thelexinoe, Iocaste, Ananke (diameter: 12.5 mi/20 km), S/2003 J16, S/2003 J3, S/2003 J18, Helike, and S/2003 J15.

Like the Ananke group, the Carme group is remarkably homogeneous. It comprises 17 satellites, which share similar orbits and, except for one, range from 1.2 to 3 mi (2–5 km) in diameter: Arche, Pasithee, Chaldene, Kale, Isonoe, Aitne, Erinome, Taygete, Carme (diameter: 28 mi/46 km), Kalyke, Eukelade, Kallichore, S/2003 J17, S/2003 J10, S/2003 J9, S/2003 J5, and S/2003 J19. The most distant of the groups from the planet is the Pasiphae, which comprises 14 widely dispersed satellites that, except for two, range from 1.2 to 4.5 mi (2–7 km) in diameter: S/2000 J12, Eurydome, Autonoe, Sponde, Pasiphae (diameter: 36 mi/58 km), Megaclite, Sinope (diameter: 23 mi/38 km), Hegemone, Aode, Callirrhoe, Cyllene, S/2000 J23, S/2000 J4, and S/2000 J14. The odd orbits of the irregular satellites indicate that they were captured after Jupiter's formation. Because they are small, irregularly shaped, and clustered into groups, it is believed that they originated as parts of a larger body that either shattered due to Jupiter's enormous gravity or broke apart in a collision with another body.

Jupiter has three ringsHalo, Main, and Gossamer —similar to those of Saturn but much smaller and fainter. An intense radiation belt lies between the rings and Jupiter's uppermost atmospheric layers.

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