Letter

Nature 453, 72-75 (1 May 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06886; Received 16 August 2007; Accepted 28 February 2008

The sculpting of Jupiter's gossamer rings by its shadow

Douglas P. Hamilton1 & Harald Krüger2,3

  1. Astronomy Department, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742-2421, USA
  2. Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung, Max-Planck-Strasse 2, 37191 Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany
  3. Max-Planck-Institut für Kernphysik, Postfach 103980, 69029 Heidelberg, Germany

Correspondence to: Douglas P. Hamilton1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to D.P.H. (Email: dphamil@umd.edu).

Dust near Jupiter is produced when interplanetary impactors collide energetically with small inner moons, and is organized into a main ring, an inner halo, and two fainter and more distant gossamer rings1, 2. Most of these structures are constrained by the orbits of the moons3 Adrastea, Metis, Amalthea and Thebe, but a faint outward protrusion called the Thebe extension behaves differently and has eluded understanding. Here we report on dust impacts detected during the Galileo spacecraft's traversal of the outer ring region4: we find a gap in the rings interior to Thebe's orbit5, grains on highly inclined paths, and a strong excess of submicrometre-sized dust just inside Amalthea's orbit. We present detailed modelling that shows that the passage of ring particles through Jupiter's shadow creates the Thebe extension and fully accounts for these Galileo results. Dust grains alternately charge and discharge when traversing shadow boundaries, allowing the planet's powerful magnetic field to excite orbital eccentricities6 and, when conditions are right, inclinations as well.

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