Saturn's atmosphere shares strange feature with Earth, say scientists

February 10, 2006

Aurora
A feature of the Earth's atmosphere which has long puzzled scientists is replicated in the atmosphere of Saturn, according to new research.

Saturn, like Earth, produces electron beams which not only accelerate towards its auroral region but also away from it, say scientists this week in Nature. These 'anti-planetward' electrons puzzle scientists because they do not produce auroral light and do not fit into the current understanding of how auroras, which are usually found around a planet's poles, are created.

Auroras are an effect of light emitted from the upper atmosphere. The aurora on Earth, sometimes known as the Northern Lights, is a bright and colourful glow sometimes seen in the night sky in parts of the northern hemisphere. Auroras are usually generated when atmospheric atoms become excited by the electrons that are accelerating towards the planet.

The fact that there are also anti-planetward auroral electrons on Saturn just as on Earth, suggests that such electrons are a universal feature of all auroras. It was previously unclear whether anti-planetward electrons were a unique feature of the aurora on Earth. Auroras similar to the one on Earth are found on most planets in our Solar System.

Professor Michele Dougherty, of the Space and Atmospheric Physics group at Imperial College London and one of the authors of the research, said: "Auroras are still very mysterious and we dont fully understand what the connection is between the auroras and the electrons accelerating away from the Earth. The fact that we have now observed the same thing happening on Saturn means that we are even more curious about why this is taking place."

Scientists discovered anti-planetward electrons on Saturn using measurements taken by the Magnetospheric Imaging Instrument on the Cassini spacecraft. Magnetic field data from the magnetometer onboard Cassini was used to analyse the electron beams and Professor Dougherty is Principal Investigator for the magnetometer.

Source: Imperial College London

Explore further: To catch a wave, rocket launches from top of world

Related Stories

To catch a wave, rocket launches from top of world

January 28, 2019

On Jan. 4, 2019, at 4:37 a.m. EST the CAPER-2 mission launched from the Andøya Space Center in Andenes, Norway, on a 4-stage Black Brant XII sounding rocket. Reaching an apogee of 480 miles high before splashing down in ...

To image leaky atmosphere, NASA rocket team heads north

November 30, 2018

On a frigid morning in early December, a team of NASA rocket scientists will huddle in the control room in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, a remote archipelago off the northern coast of Norway. Here at the world's northernmost rocket ...

Preparing for discovery with NASA's Parker Solar Probe

December 13, 2018

Weeks after Parker Solar Probe made the closest-ever approach to a star, the science data from the first solar encounter is just making its way into the hands of the mission's scientists. It's a moment many in the field have ...

A new way to measure Earth's magnetosphere

January 4, 2012

US researchers have demonstrated the potential use of a new way to measure properties of Earth's magnetosphere, the magnetic bubble that surrounds the planet.

Chandra probes high-voltage auroras on Jupiter

March 2, 2005

Scientists have obtained new insight into the unique power source for many of Jupiter's auroras, the most spectacular and active auroras in the Solar System. Extended monitoring of the giant planet with NASA's Chandra X-ray ...

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

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.