Cathode-ray Jupiter

The new, improved solar system, 4

Jupiter’s magnetosphere is a strange mixture of the impressive and the disappointing: a vast, wobbly pancake of ionised gases, hundreds of millions of kilometres wide and large enough to hold the Sun several times over, it would be wider than a full Moon in Earth’s sky, if it radiated any visible light.

But it doesn’t.  Talk about wasteful.  The largest single structure in the whole solar system is just sitting there, like an invisible Mount Everest.  And all it takes is a sprinkling of the right ingredients and a bit of a kick to get something truly worthwhile.

Io, the innermost of Jupiter’s larger moons, is our base of operations.  This highly volcanic moon is already pumping megatonnes of dust and gases into the magnetosphere, and its molten interior will be a handy energy source for our arrays of high-wattage lasers.

These beams will light up the plasma – cunningly doped by dumping suitable chemicals into Io’s magma – in all the gorgeous colours of sodium-green, oxygen-red and sulphur-blue, turning Jupiter into a huge near-vacuum tube with pixels the size of minor planets.

Io’s orbital period of 42 hours will give our display a refresh rate of 0.000006542 Hz, not the best on the market, but as it’s all powered by Jupiter’s rotation and gravity, it’s completely carbon-neutral.

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