Shop Windows to the Universe

Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather by Mike Smith tells the story of our storm warning system. See our online store book collection.
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 and interesting 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 first spotted a strange hexagonal pattern around the North Pole in the 1980s. In 2006, the Cassini spacecraft found a weird "hurricane-like" storm swirling around Saturn's South Pole.

Saturn, like Earth and some other planets, has a magnetic field. On most planets the magnetic field is not quite lined up straight with the planet's spin axis. Saturn is unusual in this way. Its spin axis is almost perfectly aligned with its magnetic field. The two 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 subatomic particles towards the planet's magnetic poles. When these particles hit gas molecules in Saturn's atmosphere they produce 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 frigid 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 spew ice high into the sky above the South Pole of Enceladus.

Last modified January 20, 2009 by Randy Russell.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Our online store includes books on science education, ranging from evolution, classroom research, and the need for science and math literacy!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Saturn's Strange Hexagon

Astronomers have discovered a strange shape in Saturn's atmosphere. The shape is a hexagon. The hexagon is near Saturn's North Pole. Scientists aren't quite sure why Saturn has the hexagon shape in its...more

Cassini

A spacecraft named Cassini will study the planet Saturn for several years. Cassini blasted off from Earth in October 1997. After flying past Venus, Earth, and Jupiter, Cassini finally arrived at Saturn...more

Saturn's Southern Polar Vortex

Saturn's South Pole is very stormy. It is also surprisingly warm. A huge, hurricane-like storm is centered on the South Pole. Astronomers recently discovered that the pole is also warmer than any other...more

Planetary Magnets

The Earth is a good example of a planetary dipole, where the lines of force point in a direction out of the South (magnetic) Pole and into the North (magnetic) Pole. Planets can also show evidence of quadrupoles...more

The Magnetic Field

The force of magnetism causes material to point along the direction the magnetic force points. As shown in the diagram to the left, the force of magnetism is illustrated by lines, which represent the force....more

A Look at Uranus' Magnetosphere

The magnetosphere of Uranus is medium sized, but still much bigger than the Earth's. It holds all of Uranus' moons. It is probably made in the middle of the planet, and with ice, rather than with iron...more

A Look at Saturn's Magnetosphere

Saturn's magnetosphere is not as big as Jupiter's, but it is still pretty big. It is big enough to hold all of Saturn's moons. It is probably made the same way as is Jupiter's, which affects its overall...more

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