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: France raises heat on decision for next Ariane rocket

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA image: Flying through an aurora

Sep 10, 2014

European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst posted this photograph taken from the International Space Station to social media on Aug. 29, 2014, writing, "words can't describe how it feels flying through ...

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 ...

Rocket launches into an aurora to study auroral swirls

Mar 07, 2014

If you've ever wondered what makes the aurora take on the amazing forms it does you've got company. Marilia Samara and the crew of aurora researchers at Alaska's Poker Flat Range head up the NASA-funded Ground-to-Rocket Electrodynamics-Electrons Correlative Experiment, ...

Research team to fire rocket into Northern Lights

Jan 23, 2014

(Phys.org) —On Jan. 24, 2014, Marilia Samara will be waiting for the perfect aurora. Samara and her science team will be at the Poker Flat Research Range in Poker Flat, Alaska, looking for classic curls ...

Recommended for you

Miranda: An icy moon deformed by tidal heating

6 hours ago

Miranda, a small, icy moon of Uranus, is one of the most visually striking and enigmatic bodies in the solar system. Despite its relatively small size, Miranda appears to have experienced an episode of intense ...

The latest observations of interstellar particles

12 hours ago

With all the news about Voyager 1 leaving the heliosphere and entering interstellar space you might think that the probe is the first spacecraft to detect interstellar particles. That isn't entirely true, ...

User comments : 0