Astronomers observed Another Driving factor of Saturn's Aurora

Jay Kakade
Saturn's Aurora Infrared Image of Saturn's Aurora captured by Cassini Spacecraft. (Image Credit: NASA, Cassini, VIMS Team, University of Arizona, University of Leicester, JPL, ASI)

Just like Earth, Auroras are not uncommon on Saturn. But the case of Saturn is way different than Earth. Atmosphere of Saturn is filled with hydrogen. Auroras on Saturn can only be seen in ultraviolet lights.

Even after the success of the Cassini Mission, Questions regarding the Auroral display of Saturn remain unanswered.

A new study by W. M. Keck Observatory has observed a never-seen-before experience in Saturn's Aurora. This team stated Saturn is a unique planet among others observed till date. Planet's magnetosphere is not the only mechanism driving aurora, Swirling winds within the atmosphere is another such factor.

Powerful currents from the surrounding magnetosphere cause Auroras to be displayed. Powerful currents are either driven by charged particles from the Sun or volcanic materials on the moon. Auroras due to charged particles from the Sun are seen on Earth, While Auroras due to volcanic materials from the moon are seen on Saturn and Jupiter.

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According to Ph.D. researcher Nahid Chowdhury, The internal rotational rate of Saturn must be constant. But after studying it for almost a decade, astronomers have observed this rate to change with time.

In addition, there are other periodic features observed in the southern and northern hemisphere which vary throughout the year.

But our astronomical studies tell us that the internal rotational rate of a planet can't change so quickly. There must be another strange factor on Saturn. After the success of the Cassini Mission, Several theories are put forth to explain the mechanism behind these periodicities.

This study claims a fundamental driving factor that generates periodicities and Auroras in the upper atmosphere of the planet. This study will reinitiate our study on how local weather patterns impact the creation of Auroras.

Astronomers used Keck Observatory’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSPEC) to observe ultraviolet light emission from Saturn's upper atmosphere.

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Tom Stallard, Associate Professor in Planetary Astronomy at the University of Leicester and co-author of the study said, It was one of the best experiences he ever had. These opportunities enabled them to capture the most exquisite dataset ever detailed.

After placing the map against the known radio Aurora, They found that the large portion of Auroras are generated by swirling patterns of weather in the atmosphere. They are also responsible for variations in internal rate of rotation.

Winds in the ionosphere blow at a speed of 0.2 - 3 Kilometres per second, with energy generated from Saturn's thermosphere. Astronomers claim this energy drives this system.

Kevin Baines, a JPL-Caltech-based co-author of the study and a member of the Cassini Science Team said, “Our study, by conclusively determining the origin of the mysterious variability in radio pulses, eliminates much of the confusion into Saturn’s bulk rotation rate and the length of the day on Saturn.”
  1. Saturn's Weather-Driven Aurorae Modulate Oscillations in the Magnetic Field and Radio Emissions. DOI: 10.1029/2021GL096492

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  1. Saturn still has many unsolved mysteries. Let me know your thoughts too.

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