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Hubble Takes A Peek At Stunning Aurora Lightshow On Saturn

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An aurora event is incredible to watch no matter where one might be, but it is especially spectacular when witnessed in Saturn from outer space.

The Hubble Space Telescope was able to capture the light show at the north pole of the ringed planet over the course of seven months.

Aurora In Saturn

Auroras, also called northern or southern light depending on where they appear, offer entrancing displays of light caused by bursts of charged particles from the sun that gets trapped into the magnetic field and sent to the poles. When these particles interact with the oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere, it produces a stream of lights.

On Saturn, the auroras look a bit different. Like Jupiter and Neptune, the gas giant's atmosphere is dominated by hydrogen, making the light show invisible to the naked eye.

Using Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, scientists monitored the behavior of the aurora in Saturn's north pole before and after the northern summer solstice. The images matched to the observations made by Cassini called the "Grand Finale," the spacecraft's last mission before it burned and disintegrated into the atmosphere of Saturn.

The resulting images, according to the press release by the Hubble team, is the "most comprehensive" look at the aurora and its behavior in Saturn.

Similar to the northern/southern lights on Earth, the auroras in Saturn spin and swirl as demonstrated in the video below. They change because of both the solar wind and the rapid rotation of the gas giant (a day consists of only 11 hours).

The Hubble Telescope also reports that the northern aurora light show is at its brightest just before midnight and around dawn.

This is not the first time that Saturn's auroras have been observed by scientists, but watching the behavior of the northern lights in the gas giant gives more details about one of the largest magnetosphere in the solar system.

 

Auroras Across The Solar System

Auroras vary from planet to planet. Albeit caused by the same solar storms, the different atmospheres and magnetic fields influence the appearance of the magnificent light shows.

Mars, for example, has an atmosphere that is too thin but still generates an aurora that, according to a previous MAVEN mission, might be diffused across the red planet.

The composition of the atmosphere also affects the appearance of auroras. Io, a volcanic moon, spews charged particles into the magnetosphere of Jupiter, producing blue ultraviolet lights.

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