Cassini Finds Mysterious New Aurora On Saturn

By | November 14, 2008


Wow, that is really alien looking…

Saturn has its own unique brand of aurora that lights up the polar cap, unlike any other planetary aurora known in our solar system. This odd aurora revealed itself to one of the infrared instruments on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

“We’ve never seen an aurora like this elsewhere,” said Tom Stallard, a scientist working with Cassini data at the University of Leicester, England. Stallard is lead author of a paper that appears in the Nov. 13 issue of the journal Nature. “It’s not just a ring of auroras like those we’ve seen at Jupiter or Earth. This aurora covers an enormous area across the pole. Our current ideas on what forms Saturn’s aurora predict that this region should be empty, so finding such a bright aurora here is a fantastic surprise.”

Auroras are caused by charged particles streaming along the magnetic field lines of a planet into its atmosphere. Particles from the sun cause Earth’s auroras. Many, but not all, of the auroras at Jupiter and Saturn are caused by particles trapped within the magnetic environments of those planets.

Jupiter’s main auroral ring, caused by interactions internal to Jupiter’s magnetic environment, is constant in size. Saturn’s main aurora, which is caused by the solar wind, changes size dramatically as the wind varies. The newly observed aurora at Saturn, however, doesn’t fit into either category.

“Saturn’s unique auroral features are telling us there is something special and unforeseen about this planet’s magnetosphere and the way it interacts with the solar wind and the planet’s atmosphere,” said Nick Achilleos, Cassini scientist on the Cassini magnetometer team at the University College London. “Trying to explain its origin will no doubt lead us to physics which uniquely operates in the environment of Saturn.” …  – sd

0 thoughts on “Cassini Finds Mysterious New Aurora On Saturn

  1. Sepp

    Saturn also has a hexagonal cloud pattern on its north pole (visible in that same photograph, which astronomers have been at a loss to explain.

    With that pattern, and the recently discovered auroral light display, the likelihood that Saturn (and indeed all planets and stars) are vortex-based structures, rather than simple spherical accumulations of dead matter as is the official view.

    For a trip down that rabbit hole, there is more on vortex involvement in forming planets, stars and galaxies in an article on my blog:

    Star Formation: Vortex Builds Stars, Planets

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