Callisto

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The interior structure of the Jovian moon Callisto.

Callisto, also called Jupiter IV, outermost of the four large moons (Galilean satellites) discovered around Jupiter by the astronomers Galileo Galilei and Simon Marius. Callisto is a dark, heavily cratered body of rock and ice that appears to have remained substantially unaltered inside and out for the past four billion years.

Callisto has a diameter of about 4,820 km, which is less than 100 km shy of the diameter of the planet Mercury—and it orbits Jupiter at a mean distance of about 1,883,000 km. The bulk density of Callisto is 1.83 grams per cubic cm, a little more than half that of Earth’s Moon, which indicates that Callisto is about half rock and half ice. Spacecraft measurements of its gravity field indicate that, unlike the other Galilean moons, this satellite is not differentiated. Its interior thus must resemble a raisin pudding, with rock and ice well mixed, instead of exhibiting the core-mantle structure found within Io, Europa, and Ganymede. Nevertheless, Callisto has a weak magnetic field induced by Jupiter’s field, which raises the possibility that a conducting layer of salty liquid water exists somewhere below its surface.

Callisto was first observed at close range by the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft in 1979 and then by the Galileo orbiter beginning in the mid-1990s. Unlike Ganymede, which is very similar in bulk composition, Callisto does not exhibit large amounts of ice on its surface. Near-infrared spectra contain only weak indications of water ice, and the surface is much too dark to be made of ice exclusively. Galileo’s detailed images reveal that deposits of dark material have obliterated the smallest craters in some areas, and its spectroscopic observations show the material to be a mixture of hydrated minerals resembling clays. The spectroscopic studies also led to the discovery of solid carbon dioxide on Callisto and the presence of a tenuous, continuously escaping atmosphere of carbon dioxide. In addition, the moon has traces of sulfur compounds, which may have come from volcanically active Io; hydrogen peroxide, which is probably made from water ice by photochemical reactions; and organic compounds possibly delivered by comets.

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