An innovative instrument on NASA's Cassini spacecraft makes the space environment around Jupiter visible, revealing a donut-shaped gas cloud encircling the planet.
The image was taken with the energetic neutral atom imaging technique by the Magnetospheric Imaging Instrument on Cassini as the spacecraft flew past Jupiter in early 2001 at a distance of about 10 million kilometers (6 million miles). This technique provides information about a source by detecting neutral atoms emitted by the source, comparable to how a camera reveals information about an object by detecting photons coming from the object.
The central object in this image represents energetic neutral atom emissions from Jupiter itself. The outer two objects represent emissions from a donut-shaped cloud, or torus, that shares an orbit with Jupiter's moon Europa. The cloud's emissions appear dot-like because of the viewing angle. The torus is viewed edge-on, and the image is brightest at the line-of-sight angles that pass through the greatest volume of it.
Cassini is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages Cassini for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.