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Cassini Measures Saturn’s Nightside Aurora & Electric Currents

March 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Since the NASA / ESA Cassini-Huygens spacecraft arrived at Saturn in 2004, astronomers and space scientists have been able to study the ringed planet and its moons in great detail. Now, for the first time, a team of planetary scientists have made simultaneous measurements of Saturn’s nightside aurora, magnetic field, and associated charged particles. Together the fields and particle data provide information on the electric currents flowing that produce the emissions. Team leader Dr Emma Bunce of the University of Leicester will present the new work at the National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester on 27 March 2012.

Generally, images of the aurora (equivalent to the terrestrial ‘northern lights’) provide valuable information about the electromagnetic connection between the solar wind, the planet’s magnetic field (magnetosphere) and its upper atmosphere. Variations in the aurora then provide information on changes in the associated magnetosphere. But viewing the aurora (best done at a large distance) at the same time as measuring the magnetic field and charged particles at high latitudes (where the aurora is found, best done close to the planet) is hard

In 2009, Cassini made a crossing of the magnetic field tubes that connect to the aurora on the night side of Saturn. Because of the position of the spacecraft, Dr Bunce and her team were able to obtain ultraviolet images of the aurora (which manifests itself as a complete oval around each pole of the planet) at the same time.

Full Story: http://www.ras.org.uk/news-and-press/219-news-2012/2101-cassini-makes-simultaneous-measurements-of-saturns-nightside-aurora-and-electric-current-system

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