Posted: Thursday 15 July 2010 – 0 comment(s)
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NASA astronomers Thursday released movies of Saturn’s northern and southern lights, seen edge-on. The ringed planet moves into its equinox, where both poles are equally illuminated by the sun and viewable from Earth, only every 15 years, allowing for Hubble’s unique vantage on the planet’s aurorae.
“Given the rarity of such an event, this new footage will likely be the last and best equinox movie that Hubble captures of our planetary neighbour,” says a European Space Agency statement. Aurorae result from charged solar wind particles trapped in a planet’s magnetic field striking atoms in the upper atmosphere. Just like Northern Lights on Earth, Saturn sees similar polar light shows as a result.
Saturn’s northern and southern aurorae differ, the astronomers report. The northern magnetic field appears more intense, suggesting Saturn’s magnetic field is not distributed evenly around the planet. The finding supports measurements made by the international Cassini spacecraft, which has orbited Saturn since 2004 and recently had its exploration mission extended.