Thursday, 13 Nov, 2008 Science

Scientists Mystified by Aurora on Saturn


Scientists observed bright, flickering lights of an aurora on Saturn and the phenomenon mystified them since it behaves differently from any other aurora known to them.

The phenomenon takes place just like on Earth, i.e. above one of the poles. It was mapped out by an infra-red camera installed on NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

According to Tom Stallard, of the University of Leicester, the phenomenon represents not simply a ring of aurorae that scientists observed on Earth and Jupiter. Saturn's aurora covers a huge region across the pole.

"Our current ideas on what forms Saturn's aurorae predict that this region should be empty, so finding such a bright one here is a fantastic surprise," said Stallard.

The picture taken by the spacecraft shows a blue region, which represents a composite displaying the aurora, red region, which is the hot interior of Saturn, and black silhouettes, which are clouds, reports TimesOnline.

The glow occurs due to particles that smash into the atmosphere of the planet. The wavelength of the glow is 4 microns, which is 6 times that of light the human eye is able to observe. It is worth mentioning that the image of Saturn's aurora was made 2 years ago from a distance of 1,061,000km. This year the spacecraft made the picture of the clouds at a distance of 602,000km.

The project represents a cooperation of scientists from NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

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