Auroras on Saturn

Saturn Auroras
Ultraviolet display of the northern lights on Saturn taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit ESA/NASA/J. Nichols University of Leicester

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have captured new images of the aurorae dancing around Saturn’s north pole. These ultraviolet images show what happens as the Sun’s solar wind interacts with the magnetosphere of Saturn.

A planet’s magnetosphere is the region where charged particles are affected by the planet’s own magnetic field. As the charged particles of the solar wind strike a planet’s magnetosphere, the sunward side is compressed and the night side stretches out into a “magnetotail” much like a comet.

A particularly strong burst of solar particles hit Saturn’s magnetosphere and caused the magnetotail to collapse and reorient itself. These changes cause the auroral display. The same process happens here on Earth.