Saturn’s radio emissions and bright auroras are linked

February 17, 2005

Just as the static on an AM radio grows louder with the approach of a summer lightning storm, strong radio emissions accompany bright auroral spots -- similar to Earth’s northern lights -- on the planet Saturn, according to a research paper published in the Thursday, Feb. 17 issue of the journal Nature.

The Cassini spacecraft is the first to explore the Saturn system of rings and moons from orbit. Cassini entered orbit on Jun. 30, 2004 and immediately began sending back intriguing images and data. According to William Kurth, research scientist in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of Physics and Astronomy, the data collected in early 2004, indicated that Saturn’s strong radio emissions grow stronger when the solar wind blows harder.

"We had expected that this might be the case, based on our understanding of auroral radio signals from Earth’s auroras, but this is the first time we’ve been able to compare Saturn’s radio emissions with detailed images of the aurora," Kurth says. "This is important to our on-going Cassini studies because this association allows us to have some idea of what the aurora are doing throughout the mission from our continuous radio observations."

Co-author Don Gurnett, Cassini Radio and Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) instrument principal investigator, says the finding means that radio emissions from Saturn’s aurora are very similar to radio emissions from the Earth’s aurora.

Kurth says that one of Cassini’s objectives is to understand how the magnetic field around Saturn, called its magnetosphere, responds to the influence of the solar wind, a hot gas composed of electrons and ions that originates at the Sun and blows past the planets at speeds around one million miles per hour.

Two related papers published by other researchers in Thursday’s issue of Nature show that, like a flaming log in a campfire, Saturn’s aurora become brighter and more expansive when the solar wind blows harder. However, the distribution of auroras on Saturn differs from those on Earth.

Other discoveries made by UI researchers using the RPWS instrument have included finding that lightning on Saturn is roughly one million times stronger than lightning on Earth; observing that Cassini impacted dust particles as it traversed Saturn’s rings; and learning that Saturn’s radio rotation rate varies.

The radio sounds of Saturn’s rotation -- resembling a heartbeat -- and other sounds of space can be heard by visiting www-pw.physics.uiowa.edu/space-audio .

Explore further: Planetary scientist explains the significance of the historic Rosetta satellite mission

Related Stories

Follow the radio waves to exomoons, astrophysicists say

August 11, 2014

Scientists hunting for life beyond Earth have discovered more than 1,800 planets outside our solar system, or exoplanets, in recent years, but so far, no one has been able to confirm an exomoon. Now, physicists from The University ...

'Tis the season—for plasma changes at Saturn

May 3, 2013

(Phys.org) —A University of Iowa undergraduate student has discovered that a process occurring in Saturn's magnetosphere is linked to the planet's seasons and changes with them, a finding that helps clarify the length of ...

Cassini Halloween treat: Titan glows in the dark

November 1, 2012

(Phys.org)—A literal shot in the dark by imaging cameras on NASA's Cassini spacecraft has yielded an image of a visible glow from Titan, emanating not just from the top of Titan's atmosphere, but also - surprisingly - from ...

Recommended for you

How bees naturally vaccinate their babies

July 31, 2015

When it comes to vaccinating their babies, bees don't have a choice—they naturally immunize their offspring against specific diseases found in their environments. And now for the first time, scientists have discovered how ...

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

July 31, 2015

A dying star's final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star's demise is still quite ...

Exoplanets 20/20: Looking back to the future

July 31, 2015

Geoff Marcy remembers the hair standing up on the back of his neck. Paul Butler remembers being dead tired. The two men had just made history: the first confirmation of a planet orbiting another star.

Earth flyby of 'space peanut' captured in new video

July 31, 2015

NASA scientists have used two giant, Earth-based radio telescopes to bounce radar signals off a passing asteroid and produce images of the peanut-shaped body as it approached close to Earth this past weekend.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.