Thursday, April 21, 2011

Saturn's Moon Enceladus Particle Stream

This artist's concept shows a glowing patch of ultraviolet light near Saturn's north pole that occurs at the "footprint" of the magnetic connection between Saturn and its moon Enceladus. The magnetic field lines and the footprint are not visible to the naked eye, but were detected by the ultraviolet imaging spectrograph and fields and particles instruments on board NASA's Cassini spacecraft.
CREDIT: Ken Moscati and Abi Rymer, JHUAPL Including data from NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/University of Colorado/Central Arizona College/SSI

A shimmering patch of light as big as Sweden detected at the north pole of Saturn is the spectacular result of a giant stream of electrically charged particles from the planet's moon Enceladus, scientists find.

On Earth, surges of charged particles from the sun colliding with our planet's magnetic field create the northern and southern lights, or auroras.

Similar patches of light have been seen on Jupiter, caused by electrons and ions originating from that planet's volcanically active moon Io.

Saturn also has its own aurora light show, which is created when solar particles from the sun interact with the planet's magnetic field. The new study, however, is the first time astronomers have caught a Saturn moon creating auroras on the ringed planet.

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