Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Saturn's aurorae images 'unique to science'

11.02.2010
University of Leicester team leads international programmes using Hubble Space Telescope

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 [1].

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. [2] 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!
Further information:
http://www.le.ac.uk

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy
24.03.2017 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst

nachricht Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen

24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>