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The sculpting of Jupiter’s gossamer rings by its shadow


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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Figure 1: Overview of Jupiter’s diffuse ring system.
Figure 2: Galileo dust data.
Figure 3: Variations of the electric potential during shadow passages.
Figure 4: Radial and vertical mobility of dust.

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We thank the Galileo project for a successful mission. This research was supported by grants from NASA Exobiology (D.P.H.) and DLR (H.K.).

Author Contributions H.K. did all of the data analysis and created Figs 1 and 2. D.P.H. did the analytic work and numerical modelling, including Figs 3 and 4.

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Correspondence to Douglas P. Hamilton.

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Hamilton, D., Krüger, H. The sculpting of Jupiter’s gossamer rings by its shadow. Nature 453, 72–75 (2008).

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