A comprehensive numerical model of Io's chemically-reacting sublimation-driven atmosphere and its interaction with the Jovian plasma torus



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Io has one of the most dynamic atmospheres in the solar system due in part to an orbital resonance with Europa and Ganymede that causes intense tidal heating and volcanism. The volcanism serves to create a myriad of volcanic plumes across Io's surface that sustain temporally varying local atmospheres. The plumes primarily eject sulfur dioxide (SO₂) that condenses on Io's surface during the relatively cold night. During the day, insolation warms the surface to temperatures where a global partially collisional atmosphere can be sustained by sublimation from SO₂ surface frosts. Both the volcanic and sublimation atmospheres serve as the source for the Jovian plasma torus which flows past Io at ~57 km/s. The high energy ions and electrons in the Jovian plasma torus interact with Io's atmosphere causing atmospheric heating, chemical reactions, as well as altering the circumplanetary winds. Energetic ions which impact the surface can sputter material and create a partially collisional atmosphere. Simulations suggest that energetic ions from the Jovian plasma cannot penetrate to the surface when the atmospheric column density is greater than 10¹⁵ cm⁻². These three mechanisms for atmospheric support (volcanic, sublimation, and sputtering) all play a role in supporting Io's atmosphere but their relative contributions remain unclear. In the present work, the Direct Simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) method is used to simulate the interaction of Io's atmosphere with the Jovian plasma torus and the results are compared to observations. These comparisons help constrain the relative contributions of atmospheric support as well as highlight the most important physics in Io's atmosphere. These rarefied gas dynamics simulations improve upon earlier models by using a three-dimensional domain encompassing the entire planet computed in parallel. The effects of plasma heating, planetary rotation, inhomogeneous surface frost, molecular residence time of SO₂ on the exposed non-frost surface, and surface temperature distribution are investigated. Circumplanetary flow is predicted to develop from the warm dayside toward the cooler nightside. Io's rotation leads to a highly asymmetric frost surface temperature distribution (due to the frost's high thermal inertia) which results in circumplanetary flow that is not axi-symmetric about the subsolar point. The non-equilibrium thermal structure of the atmosphere, specifically vibrational and rotational temperatures, is also examined. Plasma heating is found to significantly inflate the atmosphere on both the dayside and nightside. The plasma energy flux causes high temperatures at high altitudes, but plasma energy depletion through the dense gas column above the warmest frost permits gas temperatures cooler than the surface at low altitudes. A frost map (Douté et al., 2001) is used to control the sublimated flux of SO₂ which can result in inhomogeneous column densities that vary by nearly a factor of four for the same surface temperature. A short residence time for SO₂ molecules on the non-frost component is found to smooth lateral atmospheric inhomogeneities caused by variations in the surface frost distribution, creating an atmosphere that looks nearly identical to one with uniform frost coverage. A longer residence time is found to agree better with mid-infrared observations (Spencer et al., 2005) and reproduce the observed anti-Jovian/sub-Jovian column density asymmetry. The computed peak dayside column density for Io agrees with those suggested by Lyman-[alpha] observations (Feaga et al., 2009) assuming a surface frost temperature of 115 K. On the other hand, the peak dayside column density at 120 K is a factor of five larger and is higher than the upper range of observations (Jessup et al., 2004; Spencer et al., 2005). The results of the original DSMC simulations of Io's atmosphere show that the most important and sensitive parameter is the SO₂ surface frost temperature. To improve upon the original surface temperature model, we constrain Io's surface thermal distribution by a parametric study of its thermophysical properties. Io's surface thermal distribution is represented by three thermal units: sulfur dioxide (SO₂) frosts/ices, non-frosts (probably sulfur allotropes and/or pyroclastic dusts), and hot spots. The hot spots included in the thermal model are static high temperature surfaces with areas and temperatures based on Keck infrared observations. Elsewhere, over frosts and non-frosts, the thermal model solves the one-dimensional heat conduction equation in depth into Io's surface and includes the effects of eclipse by Jupiter, radiation from Jupiter, and latent heat of sublimation and condensation. The best fit parameters for the SO₂ frost and non-frost units are found by using a least-squares method and fitting to observations of the Hubble Space Telescope's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (HST STIS) mid- to near-UV reflectance spectra and Galileo photo-polarimeter (PPR) brightness temperature. The thermophysical parameters are the frost Bond albedo, and thermal inertia, as well as the non-frost surface Bond albedo, and thermal inertia. The best fit parameters are found to be [equations] for the SO2 frost surface and [equations] for the non-frost surface. These surface thermophysical parameters are then used as boundary conditions in global atmospheric simulations of Io's sublimation-driven atmosphere using DSMC. The DSMC simulations show that the sub-Jovian hemisphere is significantly affected by the daily solar eclipse. The SO₂ surface frost temperature is found to drop ~5 K during eclipse but the column density falls by a factor of 20 compared to the pre-eclipse column due to the exponential dependence of the SO₂ vapor pressure on the SO₂ surface frost temperature. Supersonic winds exist prior to eclipse but become subsonic during eclipse because the collapse of the atmosphere significantly decreases the day-to-night pressure gradient that drives the winds. Prior to eclipse, the supersonic winds condense on and near the cold nightside and form a highly non-equilibrium oblique shock near the dawn terminator. In eclipse, no shock exists since the gas is subsonic and the shock only reestablishes itself an hour or more after egress from eclipse. Furthermore, the excess gas that condenses on the non-frost surface during eclipse leads to an enhancement of the atmosphere near dawn. The dawn atmospheric enhancement drives winds that oppose those that are driven away from the peak pressure region above the warmest area of the SO₂ frost surface. These opposing winds meet and are collisional enough to form stagnation point flow. The simulations are compared to Lyman-[alpha] observations in an attempt to explain the asymmetry between the dayside atmospheres of the anti-Jovian and sub-Jovian hemispheres. A composite "average dayside atmosphere" is formed from a collisionless simulation of Io's atmosphere throughout an entire orbit. The composite "average dayside" atmosphere without the effect of global winds indicates that the sub-Jovian hemisphere should have lower average column densities than the anti-Jovian hemisphere (with the strongest effect at the sub-Jovian point) due entirely to the diurnally averaged effect of eclipse. Lastly, a particle description of the plasma is coupled with the sophisticated surface thermal model and a final set of global DSMC atmospheric simulations are performed. The particle description of energetic ions from the Jovian plasma torus allows for momentum transfer from the ions to the neutral atmosphere. Also, the energetic ions (or solar photons) can dissociate the neutral atmosphere and cause sputtering of SO₂ on the surface. SO₂ remains the dominant dayside species (>90%) despite being dissociated by ions and photons to form O, O₂, S, and SO. SO₂ remains the dominant atmospheric species on the nightside between dusk and midnight due to sputtering of SO₂ surface frosts by energetic ions as well as the high thermal inertia of SO₂ frosts that cause the surface temperature to cool slowly and thus sublime a thicker SO₂ atmosphere. O₂ becomes the dominant atmospheric species above coldest areas of the surface because it is non-condensable at Io's surface temperatures and other species are sticking to the surface. SO and O are present in similar gas fractions because they are created together via the same ion and photo-dissociation reactions. Sulfur column densities are the lowest throughout the atmosphere because S is created slowly via direct dissociation of SO₂; it is instead created primarily through dissociation of SO. The momentum transfer from the plasma is found to have substantial effect on the global wind patterns. The interaction between the plasma pressure and day-to-night pressure gradient is highly dependent on Io's subsolar longitude. Similar to previous simulations, the westward winds reach higher Mach numbers and wind speeds than the eastward winds. This is because the westward winds are accelerated by a larger day-to-night pressure gradient due to the very cold surface temperatures that exist prior to dawn. Eastward equatorial winds on the nightside are accelerated by the plasma pressure and condense out near the dawn terminator after traveling ~3/4 of the circumference of Io. O₂ is pushed to the nightside by the circumplanetary winds where it builds-up until it reaches an equilibrium column density. On the nightside, O₂ is destroyed by ion dissociation. On the nightside, a shear layer develops between the equatorial eastward winds and stagnant non-condensable species at mid-latitudes. This shear layer generates lateral vorticity which is especially visible in O₂ streamlines. Large cyclones develop in the northern and southern hemispheres and are most apparent in the O₂ wind patterns because other species condense out on the nightside.