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The Poles of Saturn and Its Moons - Windows to the Universe
This picture shows the aurora over Saturn's South Pole. The aurora (Southern Lights) are shown in blue in this picture. The Hubble Space Telescope took this picture in 2004.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy of NASA, ESA, J. Clarke (Boston University), and Z. Levay (STScI).

The Poles of Saturn and Its Moons

There's a lot of strange stuff going on at both the North and South Poles of Saturn. Two of Saturn's moons also have interesting polar regions. Let's take a look!

The atmosphere and clouds are quite odd at both of Saturn's poles. Scientists have been seeing a strange hexagonal pattern around the North Pole for years. The Cassini spacecraft found a weird "hurricane-like" storm swirling around Saturn's South Pole.

Saturn has a magnetic field. On most planets the magnetic field is not quite lined up straight with the planet's spin axis. Saturn is different. Its spin axis is almost perfectly lined up with its magnetic field. They are only 1 apart. For comparison, Earth's magnetic poles are tilted about 11 away from its geographic poles. On the planet Uranus, the tilt angle is almost 57!

Saturn's magnetic field steers swarms of high-energy particles towards the planet's magnetic poles. These particles hit gas molecules in Saturn's atmosphere. When the particles and molecules collide they make the glowing light of the aurora. Saturn, like Earth, has Southern and Northern Lights!

There are interesting poles on some of Saturn's moons, too. Titan is Saturn's largest moon. It has very cold lakes of liquid natural gas at each of its poles. Astronomers have also spotted clouds near Titan's poles. Maybe rain from those clouds fills up the polar lakes.

Enceladus is one of Saturn's mid-sized moons. The South Pole of Enceladus is another interesting place. Long "tiger stripe" features on the surface are much, much warmer than other places on this icy moon. There are even geysers that shoot ice high into the sky above the South Pole of Enceladus!

Last modified January 20, 2009 by Randy Russell.

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