Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Twice crowned in fire

 Gorgeous visible and ultraviolet composite of Saturn and its aurora from Spacetelescope.org
I've just been admiring the luscious production values of NASA's Hubblecast, as superbly displayed by their most recent video which looks at the aurorae of Saturn.  Formed in the same way as Earth's Northern and Southern lights, the aurorae of Saturn circle both poles of the planet and rise more than a thousand miles above the cloud tops. 

Hubble image of Saturn showing both poles with aurorae, and the planet's rings edge-on, from Spacetelescope.org

The gas giant recently moved into a position where the light shows of both poles are visible simultaneously.  Fortuitously, this coincides with the planet's equinox, allowing scientists to make a direct comparison between the two displays, as the two poles are recieving an equal influx of charged particles from the sun.  Interestingly this has shown up a subtle difference in activity, which implies that the magnetic field of the planet is not evenly distributed.  I'm intrigued to find out where this goes with further observation. 

In the meantime, the beautiful video of fluttering, coruscating curtains of light encircling the planet's poles has really inspired me to create some jewellery - I'll share if it works!

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