Scientists from the University of Leicester have led an international study to capture space images that are unique to science.
Researchers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (HST) recently took advantage of the rare opportunity to record Saturn when its rings are edge-on, resulting in a unique movie featuring both of the giant planet's poles.
Saturn is only in this position every 15 years and this prime orientation allowed a sustained study of both of its beautiful and dynamic aurorae that decorate its poles much like the northern and southern lights on our own planet.
The study is a result of two Hubble Space Telescope programmes led by Jonathan Nichols at the University of Leicester.
Dr. Nichols said: "Hubble has proved to be one of mankind's most important scientific tools, and this is the first time that a group in the UK has led a HST programme to observe the aurorae on another world.
"However, scientists at the University of Leicester, including Prof. Stan Cowley and Dr. Emma Bunce in the Radio & Space Plasma Physics Group, did not just observe using HST, they are also actively involved in the Cassini mission which is observing many different aspects of Saturn's aurore and magnetic field, and which was recently extended to 2017 by NASA. The HST and Cassini observations combine to form a significant scientific force."
It takes Saturn almost thirty years to orbit our Sun so chances to image both of its poles simultaneously are rare. Since 1994, Hubble has been snapping pictures of the planet at a good angle, but 2009 brought the unique opportunity for Hubble to image Saturn with rings edge-on. In addition, the ringed planet was approaching its equinox when both poles are equally illuminated by the Sun's rays .
These recent observations go well beyond just a still image and allowed researchers to monitor the behaviour of both Saturn's poles in the same shot over a sustained period of time and create a movie. Over several days during January and March 2009, Hubble collected data from the ringed planet that aided astronomers studying both its northern and southern swirling aurorae. Given the rarity of such an event, this new footage will likely be the last and best equinox movie that Hubble captures of our planetary neighbour.
Dr. Nichols added: "It is particularly exciting to know that these images are unique to science. They have not, and will never again, be obtained using Hubble. This is because HST pictured Saturn at a very special vantage point, near its equatorial plane. Due to Saturn's long orbit, HST will not see this view again in its lifetime. This sustained series images of simultaneous north-south aurora are important scientifically, since they cannot be obtained at any other planet, including Earth. They tell us a great deal about the nature of the planet's magnetic field and the processes which generate aurore in a way not possible at Earth. It's a great example of how planetary science can fully complement the study of the Earth."
Despite its great distance, the Sun is still Saturn's parent star and a parents' influence is far reaching. The hot Sun constantly emits particles that reach all of the planets of the solar system in the form of solar wind. When this electrically charged stream gets close to a planet, the planet's magnetic field traps the particles, bouncing them back and forth between its two poles. The magnetic field thus focuses the particles on the polar regions, where they interact with atoms in the upper layers of the atmosphere creating aurorae, the familiar glow that the inhabitants of the Earth's polar regions know as the northern and southern lights.
The light show of Saturn's aurorae appears symmetric at the two poles.  However, analysing the new data in greater detail, astronomers discovered some subtle differences between the northern and southern aurorae, which reveal important information about Saturn's magnetic field. The northern auroral oval is slightly smaller and more intense than the southern one, implying that Saturn's magnetic field is not equally distributed across the orb of the planet; it is slightly uneven and is stronger in the north than the south. As a result, the electrically charged particles in the north are accelerated to higher energies as they are fired toward the atmosphere than those in the south. This confirms a previous result obtained by the space probe Cassini, in orbit around the ringed planet since 2004.
• Dr Nichols will be discussing this subject as part of the Leicester Physics Centre Public Lecture entitled 'Lots in Space'. It takes place on Tuesday 16 March at 18:30 in Lecture Theatre 3 of the Ken Edwards building, University of Leicester.
Dr. Jonathan Nichols | EurekAlert!
NASA's SDO sees partial eclipse in space
29.05.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Strathclyde-led research develops world's highest gain high-power laser amplifier
29.05.2017 | University of Strathclyde
The world's highest gain high power laser amplifier - by many orders of magnitude - has been developed in research led at the University of Strathclyde.
The researchers demonstrated the feasibility of using plasma to amplify short laser pulses of picojoule-level energy up to 100 millijoules, which is a 'gain'...
Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
29.05.2017 | Earth Sciences
29.05.2017 | Life Sciences
29.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy