NASA Spacecraft Get A 360-Degree View Of Saturn’s Auroras


Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Colorado/Central Arizona College and NASA/ESA/University of Leicester and NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Lancaster University

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Colorado/Central Arizona College and NASA/ESA/University of Leicester and NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Lancaster University

NASA trained several pairs of eyes on Saturn as the planet put on a dancing light show at its poles. While NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, orbiting around Earth, was able to observe the northern auroras in ultraviolet wavelengths, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, orbiting around Saturn, got complementary close-up views in infrared, visible-light and ultraviolet wavelengths. Cassini could also see northern and southern parts of Saturn that don’t face Earth.

The result is a kind of step-by-step choreography detailing how the auroras move, showing the complexity of these auroras and how scientists can connect an outburst from the sun and its effect on the magnetic environment at Saturn. A new video showing aurora images from Hubble and Cassini is available here.

“Saturn’s auroras can be fickle — you may see fireworks, you may see nothing,” said Jonathan Nichols of the University of Leicester in England, who led the work on the Hubble images. “In 2013, we were treated to a veritable smorgasbord of dancing auroras, from steadily shining rings to super-fast bursts of light shooting across the pole.”

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