Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New study provides “smoking gun” evidence that Saturn’s collapsing magnetic tail causes auroras

19.05.2014

Saturn’s auroras are caused by the same phenomenon which leads to dramatic auroral displays on Earth, research shows

Researchers have captured stunning images of Saturn’s auroras as the planet’s magnetic field is battered by charged particles from the Sun. The team’s findings provide a “smoking gun” for the theory that Saturn’s auroral displays are often caused by the dramatic collapse of its “magnetic tail”.


Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have captured new images of the dancing auroral lights at Saturn’s north pole. The ultraviolet images, taken by Hubble’s super-sensitive Advanced Camera for Surveys, capture moments when Saturn’s magnetic field is affected by bursts of particles streaming out from the Sun, providing evidence that the auroral displays are often caused by the dramatic collapse of the planet’s magnetic tail. Credit: NASA/ESA

Just like comets, planets such as Saturn and the Earth have a “tail” – known as the magnetotail – that is made up of electrified gas from the Sun and flows out in the planet’s wake.

When a particularly strong burst of particles from the Sun hits Saturn, it can cause the magnetotail to collapse, with the ensuing disturbance of the planet’s magnetic field resulting in spectacular auroral displays. A very similar process happens here on Earth.

... more about:
»Astronomy »Department »Earth »Hubble »Physics »Saturn »Space »evidence

Scientists observed this process happening on Saturn firsthand between April and May of 2013 as part of a three-year-long Hubble observing campaign. Their findings have been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the America Geophysical Union.

The ultraviolet images, taken by Hubble’s super-sensitive Advanced Camera for Surveys, capture moments when Saturn’s magnetic field is affected by bursts of particles streaming out from the Sun.

Due to the composition of Saturn’s atmosphere, its auroras shine brightly in the ultraviolet range of the electromagnetic spectrum. This observation campaign using Hubble meant the astronomers were able to gather an unprecedented record of the planet’s auroral activity.

The team caught Saturn during a very dynamic light show. Some of the bursts of light seen shooting around Saturn’s polar regions travelled at over three times faster than the speed of the gas giant’s rotation.

“These images are spectacular and dynamic, because the auroras are jumping around so quickly,” Jonathan Nichols, a lecturer and research fellow in the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy in the United Kingdom, who led the Hubble observations, said. “The key difference about this work is that it is the first time the Hubble has been able to see the northern auroras so clearly.”

“The particular pattern of auroras that we saw relates to the collapsing of the magnetotail,” he added. “We have always suspected this was what also happens on Saturn. This evidence really strengthens the argument.”

“Our observations show a burst of auroras that are moving very, very quickly across the polar region of the planet. We can see that the magnetotail is undergoing huge turmoil and reconfiguration, caused by buffering from solar wind,” said Nichols, a Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Advanced Fellow in Planetary Auroras. “It’s the smoking gun that shows us that the tail is collapsing.”

The new images also formed part of a joint observing campaign between Hubble and NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which is currently in orbit around Saturn itself.

Between them, the two spacecraft managed to capture a 360-degree view of the planet’s aurora at both the north and south poles. Cassini also used optical imaging to delve into the rainbow of colors seen in Saturn’s light shows.

On Earth, observers of auroras see green curtains of light with flaming scarlet tops. Cassini’s imaging cameras reveal similar auroral veils on Saturn, which are red at the bottom and violet at the top.

Notes for Journalists

Journalists and public information officers (PIOs) of educational and scientific institutions who have registered with AGU can download a PDF copy of this accepted article by clicking on this link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014GL060186/abstract

Or, you may order a copy of the final paper by emailing your request to Nanci Bompey at nbompey@agu.org. Please provide your name, the name of your publication, and your phone number.

Neither the paper nor this press release is under embargo.

Title

“Dynamic auroral storms on Saturn as observed by the Hubble Space Telescope”

Authors:
J. D. Nichols: Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK;

S. V. Badman: Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK; and Department of Physics, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK;

K. H. Baines: Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA;

R. H. Brown: Lunar and Planetary Lab, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA;

E. J. Bunce: Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK;

J. T. Clarke: Center for Space Physics, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA;

S. W. H. Cowley: Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK;

F. J. Crary: Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA;

M. K. Dougherty: Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College London, London, UK;

J.-C. Gérard: Laboratoire de Physique Atmospherique et Planetaire, B5c, Universite de Liege, Liege, Belgium;

A. Grocott: Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK; and Department of Physics, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK;

D. Grodent: Laboratoire de Physique Atmospherique et Planetaire, B5c, Universite de Liege, Liege, Belgium;

W. S. Kurth: Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA;

H. Melin: Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK;

D. G. Mitchell: Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University, Laurel, MD, USA;

W. R. Pryor: Central Arizona College, Coolidge, AZ, USA;

T. S. Stallard: Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK.

Contact information for the authors:
Jon Nichols: +44 (0)116 252 5049, jdn@ion.le.ac.uk

AGU Contact:

Nanci Bompey
+1 (202) 777-7524
nbompey@agu.org

University of Leicester Contacts:
Ellen Rudge, News and Events Officer
+44 (0)116 229 7467
er134@le.ac.uk

Peter Thorley, Corporate News Officer
+44 (0)116 252 2415
pt91@le.ac.uk

European Space Agency Contact:
Georgia Bladon, ESA/Hubble Public Information Officer
+44 781 629 1261
gbladon@partner.eso.org

Science and Technology Facilities Council Contact:
Corinne Mosese, STFC Press officer
+44 (0)1793 979 724, +44 (0)7557 317 200
corinne.mosese@stfc.ac.uk

Nanci Bompey | American Geophysical Union
Further information:
http://news.agu.org/press-release/new-study-provides-smoking-gun-evidence-that-saturns-collapsing-magnetic-tail-causes-auroras/

Further reports about: Astronomy Department Earth Hubble Physics Saturn Space evidence

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Seeing the quantum future... literally
16.01.2017 | University of Sydney

nachricht Airborne thermometer to measure Arctic temperatures
11.01.2017 | Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

Im Focus: Bacterial Pac Man molecule snaps at sugar

Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.

The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...

Im Focus: Newly proposed reference datasets improve weather satellite data quality

UMD, NOAA collaboration demonstrates suitability of in-orbit datasets for weather satellite calibration

"Traffic and weather, together on the hour!" blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of...

Im Focus: Repairing defects in fiber-reinforced plastics more efficiently

Fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) are frequently used in the aeronautic and automobile industry. However, the repair of workpieces made of these composite materials is often less profitable than exchanging the part. In order to increase the lifetime of FRP parts and to make them more eco-efficient, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) and the Apodius GmbH want to combine a new measuring device for fiber layer orientation with an innovative laser-based repair process.

Defects in FRP pieces may be production or operation-related. Whether or not repair is cost-effective depends on the geometry of the defective area, the tools...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Multiregional brain on a chip

16.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

New technology enables 5-D imaging in live animals, humans

16.01.2017 | Information Technology

Researchers develop environmentally friendly soy air filter

16.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>