Hubble Spots Saturn’s Northern Lights

Hubble image of aurora on Saturn (NASA/ESA)
Hubble image of aurora on Saturn (NASA/ESA)

Earth isn’t the only planet with auroras — any world with a magnetic field and an atmosphere can get a light show around its poles when its star’s wind is blowing hard enough!* The image above shows Saturn’s northern lights, as seen in ultraviolet light by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys in April 2013.

See the full lineup of images below:

Ultraviolet images of Saturn's aurora in April-May 2013. Credit: NASA/ESA, Acknowledgement: J. Nichols (University of Leicester)
Ultraviolet images of Saturn’s aurora in April-May 2013. Credit: NASA/ESA, Acknowledgement: J. Nichols (University of Leicester)

Although Saturn’s auroras are similar to Earth’s, the ones seen here are much larger and more energetic.

It appears that when particles from the Sun hit Saturn, its magnetotail — the long comet-like tail formed by the solar wind pushing its magnetic field outwards — collapses and later reconfigures itself, an event that is reflected in the dynamics of its auroras. Some of the bursts of light seen shooting around Saturn’s polar regions travelled more than three times faster than the speed of the gas giant’s roughly 10-hour rotation period! (Source)

Read more about these images on the ESA Hubble site here.

*A star’s wind isn’t like the wind on Earth. You wouldn’t feel it like a breeze, rather it’s a constant outpouring of charged particles that stream out into the solar system and interact with any magnetic fields it encounters.

One Comment

  1. Jeff Barani says:

    Very beautiful pics.
    And do you think dear Jason, that a planet like Neptune or ex-planet Pluto, if they’ll have a magnetic fields and atmosphere, they would have auroras where are they too much far from the sun for it??
    Jeff Barani from Vence (French Riviera and not too far to Cannes Movies Festival !!)


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