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New Type of Aurora Found on Saturn Resolves a Planetary Mystery

Aurora

The Aurora Borealis and Australis on Earth are caused by plasma from our Sun interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field at the poles. It’s pretty straight forward right? So then how do you explain the crazy Aurora that can be found at Saturn’s Poles when the sun is so very, very far away? The answer is so ridiculously out there you aren’t going to believe it!

According to Wired, we have the answer from NASA scientists,

“The same thing happens on Saturn. But being so far from the Sun, it doesn’t receive much solar plasma. Instead, most of its plasma comes from icy volcanism on Enceladus, a gelid moon that erupts water-ice slush from deep crevasses around its south pole. Much of this cryovolcanic matter falls into orbit around the moon itself. Some of it drifts into space, bathes in sunlight, gets energized, and becomes a plasma. It is subsequently swept up by Saturn’s magnetic field lines, where it pings off its plentiful hydrogen and creates an auroral glow.”

A quartet of false-color, composite images of SaturnNASA.gov confirmed, “The Cassini plasma spectrometer complemented the MIMI data, with detection of field-aligned electron beams in the area. A team of scientists analyzed the charged particle data and concluded that the electron beams had sufficient energy flux to generate a detectable level of auroral emission at Saturn. Target locations were provided to Cassini’s ultraviolet imaging spectrograph team. On Aug. 26, 2008, the spectrograph obtained images of an auroral footprint in Saturn’s northern hemisphere.
The newly discovered auroral footprint measured about 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) in the longitude direction and less than 400 kilometers (250 miles) in latitude, covering an area comparable to that of California or Sweden. It was located at about 65 degrees north latitude.”

The Insane Aurora of Saturn: Explained

Aurora

These insane Aurora are larger than the Earth itself and composed of radically charged plasma whipped through the dense atmosphere of Saturn by a massively overpowered magnetic field that forms a working electrical circuit through the void of space all the way to the surface of the SaturnianSaturn's North Pole Hexagon and Aurora moon Enceladus.

Now, here’s the crazier part: the thunderous winds of Saturn raging at over 1,000 mph, (fast enough to rip the flesh from your bones) don’t just impact the Auroras, they DIRECT them.  James O’Donoghue, a planetary astronomer at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and co-author of the new study on Saturnian Auroras illustrated this nicely. Using the various magnetic ‘lighthouses’ of Saturn, prompted by the fact that they all seem to rotate at different speeds making the planet’s rotational velocity impossible to determine, O’Donoghue and his team were able to answer their questions thoroughly with Cassini data before it’s death-plunge.

“You get used to a lot of things when you do science,” says O’Donoghue. But Saturn’s ultraviolet and infrared auroras fueled by ice volcanos on one of its moons? “That’s one of the things I’ve never quite got over.”

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What do you think?

Written by Staff Editor

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