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This picture shows the aurora (Southern Lights) of Saturn. The aurora looks like a blue ring of light over Saturn's South Pole 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).

Saturn's Aurora

Have you ever seen the Southern or Northern Lights? Did you know that other planets (besides Earth) have them too? Scientists call these cosmic light shows the "aurora". Saturn is one of the planets that has aurora.

The Sun shoots out lots of charged particles. That flow of particles is called the "solar wind". When the solar wind gets to Saturn, some of the particles get trapped in Saturn's magnetic field. Some particles crash into gases in Saturn's atmosphere near the planet's North and South Poles. That makes the gases glow, sort of like a fluorescent light bulb. That glow is the aurora.

The aurora on Saturn are much larger and last longer than the ones on Earth. Most of the energy coming from Saturn's aurora is not visible light. Instead, it is ultraviolet (UV) "light". Scientists use special telescopes and cameras to "see" the UV radiation.

The Hubble Space Telescope has taken some pictures of Saturn's aurora. The Pioneer 11, Voyager 1 & 2, and Cassini spacecraft have also observed Saturn's aurora.

Last modified January 29, 2009 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA