An attempt to detect transient changes in Io's SO2 and NaCl atmosphere

Lorenz Roth, Jeremie Boissier, Arielle Moullet, Álvaro Sánchez-Monge, Katherine de Kleer, Mizuki Yoneda, Reina Hikida, Hajime Kita, Fuminori Tsuchiya, Aljona Blöcker, G. Randall Gladstone, Denis Grodent, Nickolay Ivchenko, Emmanuel Lellouch, Kurt D. Retherford, Joachim Saur, Peter Schilke, Darrell Strobel, Sven Thorwirth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Io's atmosphere is predominately SO2 that is sustained by a combination of volcanic outgassing and sublimation. The loss from the atmosphere is the main mass source for Jupiter's large magnetosphere. Numerous previous studies attributed various transient phenomena in Io's environment and Jupiter's magnetosphere to a sudden change in the mass loss from the atmosphere supposedly triggered by a change in volcanic activity. Since the gas in volcanic plumes does not escape directly, such causal correlation would require a transient volcano-induced change in atmospheric abundance, which has never been observed so far. Here we report four observations of atmospheric SO2 and NaCl from the same hemisphere of Io, obtained with the IRAM NOEMA interferometer on 11 December 2016, 14 March, 6 and 29 April 2017. These observations are compared to measurements of volcanic hot spots and Io's neutral and plasma environment. We find a stable NaCl column density in Io's atmosphere on the four dates. The SO2 column density derived for December 2016 is about 30% lower compared to the SO2 column density found in the period of March to April 2017. This increase in SO2 from December 2016 to March 2017 might be related to increasing volcanic activity observed at several sites in spring 2017, but the stability of the volcanic trace gas NaCl and resulting decrease in NaCl/SO2 ratio do not support this interpretation. Observed dimmings in both the sulfur ion torus and Na neutral cloud suggest rather a decrease in mass loading in the period of increasing SO2 abundance. The dimming Na brightness and stable atmospheric NaCl furthermore dispute an earlier suggested positive correlation of the sodium cloud and the hot spot activity at Loki Patara, which considerably increased in this period. The environment of Io overall appears to be in a rather quiescent state, preventing further conclusions. Only Jupiter's aurora morphology underwent several short-term changes, which are apparently unrelated to Io's quiescent environment or the relatively stable atmosphere.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113925
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Nov 1
Externally publishedYes


  • Io's atmosphere
  • Magnetospheric variability
  • Volcanic activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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