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SynoPSIs -- Volcanoes, Atmospheres, and Magnetospheres, Oh My!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Jupiter, the largest and fastest rotating planet in the solar system, has attracted a complement of 4 large moons.  The inner three moons dance in tidally locked orbits which induce particularly large tidal stresses on the innermost moon, Io.  As a result, Io is the most volcanic body in the solar system.  This volcanism helps Io maintain a tenuous atmosphere, which is stripped by interactions with Jupiter's powerful, rapidly rotating magnetic field.  The coupling of the plasma to the strong magnetic field lines confines much of the plasma to a region about ~1 Jovian radius (Rj) tall near Io's 5.9 Rj orbital radius.  The structure encircles Jupiter and wobbles with each Jovian rotation due to the ~10 degree tilt of Jupiter's magnetic field and pulsates at a mysterious and variable period ("system IV") which is slightly slower than Jupiter's magnetic field rotation rate.

This delightfully dynamic, ethereal hula hoop is known as the Io plasma torus (IPT) and provides one of the primary observables of Jupiter's magnetosphere.

In my talk, I will present one of the persistent mysteries of the IPT: why is it so massive?  The answer to this question boils down to understanding the mechanisms which govern radial transport of material from the IPT.  I will show how synoptic observations with a robotically controlled small-aperture telescope, together with IRTF service observing of Io's infrared flux, will enable significant progress to be made toward understanding why the IPT is so massive.

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