New Cassini Images Show "Northern Lights" Of Saturn

Aug 04, 2005
saturn

New images of Saturn obtained by a University of Colorado at Boulder-led team on June 21 using an instrument on the Cassini spacecraft show auroral emissions at its poles similar to Earth's Northern Lights.

Taken with the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph aboard the Cassini orbiter, the two UV images, invisible to the human eye, are the first from the Cassini-Huygens mission to capture the entire "oval" of the auroral emissions at Saturn's south pole. They also show similar emissions at Saturn's north pole, according to CU-Boulder Professor Larry Esposito, principal investigator of the UVIS instrument built at CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, and Professor Wayne Pryor of Central Arizona College, a UVIS team member and former CU graduate student.

In the false-color images, blue represents aurora emissions from hydrogen gas excited by electron bombardment, while red-orange represents reflected sunlight. The images show that the aurora lights at the polar regions respond rapidly to changes in the solar wind, said the researchers. Previous images have been taken closer to the equator, making it difficult to see the polar regions.

Major changes in the emissions inside the Saturn south-pole aurora are evident by comparing the two images, which were taken about one hour apart, they said. The brightest spot in the left aurora fades, and a bright spot appears in the middle of the aurora in the second image.

Made by slowly scanning the UVIS instrument across the planet, the images also contain more than 2,000 wavelengths of spectral information within each picture element. Researchers will use the wavelength information to study Saturn's auroras, gases, and hazes and their changing distributions.

The UVIS observation team includes researchers from CU-Boulder, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Central Arizona College and the University of Southern California.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini- Huygens mission for NASA's Space Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.

More information on the Cassini-Huygens mission is available at the following Web sites: saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and www.nasa.gov/cassin i.

Explore further: Short, sharp shocks let slip the stories of supernovae

Related Stories

Dust cloud, aurora detected around Mars

Mar 18, 2015

A NASA spacecraft circling Mars has detected a mysterious dust cloud and a vibrant aurora, both unexpected phenomena on Earth's neighboring planet, researchers said Wednesday.

Image of Jupiter from a ground-based telescope

Mar 06, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- This image of Jupiter and its moons Io and Ganymede was acquired by amateur astronomer Damian Peach on Sept. 12, 2010, when Jupiter was close to opposition. South is up and the "Great Red ...

Suomi NPP sees remnants of Mekkhala

Jan 20, 2015

After Tropical Storm Mekkhala made landfall in the central Philippines and tracked north, it weakened to a depression. By January 20, NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite saw that it was a remnant circulation ...

Recommended for you

How bad can solar storms get?

18 hours ago

Our sun regularly pelts the Earth with all kinds of radiation and charged particles. How bad can these solar storms get?

Mars rover's ChemCam instrument gets sharper vision

19 hours ago

NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover's "ChemCam" instrument just got a major capability fix, as Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists uploaded a software repair for the auto-focus system on the instrument.

User comments : 0

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.