A mosaic of four images taken through the clear filter (610 nanometers) of the solid state imaging (CCD) system aboard NASA's Galileo spacecraft on November 8, 1996, at a resolution of approximately 46 kilometers (28.5 miles) per picture element (pixel) along Jupiter's rings. Because the spacecraft was only about 0.5 degrees above the ring plane, the image is highly foreshortened in the vertical direction. The images were obtained when Galileo was in Jupiter's shadow, peering back toward the Sun; the ring was approximately 2.3 million kilometers (1.4 million miles) away. The arc on the far right of the image is produced when sunlight is scattered by small particles comprising Jupiter's upper atmospheric haze. The ring also efficiently scatters light, indicating that much of its brightness is due to particles that are microns or less in diameter. Such small particles are believed to have human-scale lifetimes, i.e., very brief compared to the solar system's age.
Jupiter's ring system is composed of three parts -- a flat main ring, a lenticular halo interior to the main ring, and the gossamer ring, outside the main ring. The near and far arms of Jupiter's main ring extend horizontally across the mosaic, joining together at the ring's ansa, on the figure's far left side. The near arm of the ring appears to be abruptly truncated close to the planet, at the point where it passes into Jupiter's shadow. Some radial structure is barely visible across the ring's ansa (top image). A faint mist of particles can be seen above and below the main rings. This vertically extended "halo" is unusual in planetary rings, and is probably caused by electromagnetic forces pushing the smallest grains out of the ring plane. Because of shadowing, the halo is not visible close to Jupiter in the lower right part of the mosaic. To accentuate faint features in the bottom image of the ring halo, different brightnesses are shown through color. Brightest features are white or yellow and the faintest are purple.
Jupiter's main ring is a thin strand of material encircling the planet. The diffuse innermost boundary begins at approximately 123,000 kilometers (76,429 miles). The main ring's outer radius is found to be at 128,940 kilometers (80,119 miles) +/-50 kilometers (31 miles), slightly less than the Voyager value of 129,130 kilometers (80,237 miles) +/-100 kilometers (62 miles), but very close to the orbit of the satellite Adrastea (128,980 kilometers or 80,144 miles). The main ring exhibits a marked drop in brightness at 127,849 kilometers (79,441 miles) +/-50 kilometers (31 miles), lying almost atop the orbit of the Jovian moon Metis at 127,978 kilometers (79,521 miles). Satellites seem to affect the structure of even tenuous rings like those found at Jupiter.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA manages the Galileo mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. JPL is an operating division of California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
This image and other images and data received from Galileo are posted on the World Wide Web, on the Galileo mission home page at URL http://galileo.jpl.nasa.gov. Background information and educational context for the images can be found at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/galileo/sepo.