For today’s post, I hopped in my imaginary spaceship and flew all the way out to Io, one of Jupiter’s moons. Without a doubt, Io is the ugliest object in the Solar System.
I know, that’s mean. I shouldn’t say things like that. But come on, just look at it. Seriously, look at it. It’s like some moldy horror you might find in the back of the fridge.
So yeah, Io’s hideous. Let’s go look at something else instead. Something pretty, like Jupiter’s auroras.
We have auroras back on Earth, of course, but Jupiter’s are a whole lot bigger, a whole lot more powerful, and when viewed in ultraviolet, a whole lot brighter. Also, unlike Earth’s auroral lights which come and go, Jupiter’s are always there. They may vary in intensity, but they never stop, never go away.
Auroras are caused by charged particles getting caught in a planet’s magnetic field, directed toward the magnetic poles, and colliding at high speed with molecules in the planet’s atmosphere.
On Earth, those charged particles come mostly from the Sun in the form of solar wind. No doubt the solar wind contributes to Jupiter’s auroras as well, but the greater contributing factor is actually—believe it or not—Io. That’s right: ugly, little Io causes Jupiter’s auroras. I guess spreading ionized sulfur all over the place is good for something after all!
In fact if you ever get to see a Jovian aurora, you’ll notice little knots in the dancing ribbons of light. These knots correspond to the positions of several of Jupiter’s moons. And the largest, brightest, most impressive of these knots… that one belongs to Io.
So I guess today’s lesson is that even the ugliest object in the Solar System can still help make the universe a more beautiful place.