Data from NASA's Galileo spacecraft were used to produce this false-color composite of Jupiter's northern aurora on the night side of the planet. The height of the aurora, the thickness of the auroral arc, and the small-scale structure are revealed for the first time. Images in Galileo's red, green, and clear filters are displayed in red, green, and blue respectively. The smallest resolved features are tens of kilometers in size, which is a ten-fold improvement over Hubble Space Telescope images and a hundred-fold improvement over ground-based images.
The glow is caused by electrically charged particles impinging on the atmosphere from above. The particles travel along Jupiter's magnetic field lines, which are nearly vertical at this latitude. The auroral arc marks the boundary between the "closed" field lines that are attached to the planet at both ends and the "open" field lines that extend out into interplanetary space. At the boundary the particles have been accelerated over the greatest distances, and the glow is especially intense.
The latitude-longitude lines refer to altitudes where the pressure is 1 bar. The image shows that the auroral emissions originate about 500 kilometers (about 310 miles) above this surface. The colored background is light scattered from Jupiter's bright crescent, which is out of view to the right. North is at the top. The images are centered at 57 degrees north and 184 degrees west and were taken on April 2, 1997 at a range of 1.7 million kilometers (1.05 million miles) by Galileo's Solid State Imaging (SSI) system.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA manages the mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC.
This image and other images and data received from Galileo are posted on the World Wide Web, on the Galileo mission home page at: http:// galileo.jpl.nasa.gov. Background information and educational context for the images can be found at: http:/ /www.jpl.nasa.gov/galileo/sepo.