JAN 19, 2020 4:40 AM PST

The Quest to Understand Saturn's Auroras Continues

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

The Cassini-Huygens mission officially came to an end in September 2017 when it came dangerously close to running of fuel and was consequently ordered to make a death plunge into Saturn’s crushing atmosphere to avoid unwanted collisions with any of Saturn’s moons. But just because the spacecraft itself is no more doesn’t mean that mission scientists have stopped analyzing Cassini’s wealth of captivating data; quite the contrary, in fact.

Image Credit: Pixabay

Only weeks before Cassini made its suicidal plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere, the spacecraft squeezed in between the gassy planet’s atmosphere and its rings. These low-altitude close encounters permitted Cassini’s imaging equipment to capture photographs of Saturn’s atmosphere in unprecedented detail, and some of that imaging comprised of Saturn’s stunning ultraviolet auroras residing at its poles.

These auroras have been a particular point of interest for mission scientists since they were uniquely observed from such a small distance. This enabled higher resolution images with a greater sense of detail than ever before.

"This last set of close-up images gives us unique highly detailed views of the small-scale structures which couldn't be discerned in previous observations by Cassini or the Hubble Space Telescope," explained Alexander Bader, the lead author of a paper recently published in the journal JGR Space Physics. "We have some ideas about what their origin could be, but there is still a lot of analysis to be done."

Related: These are the sounds Cassini recorded during its close encounter with Saturn

It’s believed that Saturn’s massive auroras are a consequence of the planet’s rapidly rotating magnetic field being bombarded by energized particles that emanate from the Sun’s solar wind.

These awesome light shows on Saturn are purportedly caused by the same mechanisms that fuel Earth’s own aurora borealis, and likewise, similar bright flashes and light pulses that have been observed at Jupiter’s poles. Interestingly enough, however, scientists say that Jupiter and Saturn’s auroras are much more energized than Earth’s.

"Surprisingly many questions revolving around Saturn's auroras remain unanswered, even after the outstanding success of the Cassini mission," Bader said.

Related: Hubble spots Uranus' version of the aurora borealis

Planetary scientists continue to comb through the data collected in Cassini’s final moments, known by most as the ‘Grand Finale,’ with the hope of a breakthrough discovery about Saturn’s spectacular auroras. But will they find anything worthwhile? Only time will tell…

Source: Phys.org, JGR Space Physics

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
DEC 15, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Spiders Build Webs in Space
DEC 15, 2020
Spiders Build Webs in Space
As humans have ventured into space, they have carried some terrestrial life with them, including spiders. Once dreamed u ...
MAR 18, 2021
Space & Astronomy
There May Be More Water-Rich Planets than Previously Thought
MAR 18, 2021
There May Be More Water-Rich Planets than Previously Thought
Researchers have hypothesized that a certain mechanism may mean there are many more water-rich planets with atmospheres ...
APR 03, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Scientists Find Strange Green Rock on Mars
APR 03, 2021
Scientists Find Strange Green Rock on Mars
NASA's Perseverance rover has found a strange, green rock on the surface of Mars that is having its science team' ...
APR 21, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Earth-like Planet Discovered Orbiting Red Dwarf Star
APR 21, 2021
Earth-like Planet Discovered Orbiting Red Dwarf Star
Researchers from Spain have discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting the star, GJ-740, a red dwarf star located 36 light ...
JUL 03, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Astronauts Perform CRISPR Gene Editing in Space
JUL 03, 2021
Astronauts Perform CRISPR Gene Editing in Space
NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have developed and successfully carried out a CRISPR-Cas9 p ...
JUL 08, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Giant Plumes on Saturn's Moon May Hold Signs of Life
JUL 08, 2021
Giant Plumes on Saturn's Moon May Hold Signs of Life
Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, has giant erupting plumes of water that, scientists say, can not be explained by known g ...
Loading Comments...