Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

January 9, 1998

Saturnian Aurora
Credit: J. Trauger (JPL) NASA

Explanation: Girdling the second largest planet in the Solar System, Saturn's Rings are one of the most spectacular sights for earthbound telescopes. This recently released image, from the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope's STIS instrument, offers a striking view of another kind of ring around Saturn - pole encircling rings of ultraviolet aurora. Towering more than 1,000 miles above the cloud tops, these Saturnian auroral displays are analogous to Earth's. Energetic charged particles in the Solar Wind are funneled by the planet's magnetic field into polar regions where they interact with atmospheric gases. Following the ebb and flow of Saturn's aurora, researchers can remotely explore the planet's atmosphere and magnetic field. In this false color image, the dramatic red aurora identify emission from atomic hydrogen, while the more concentrated white areas are due to hydrogen molecules. In 2004, NASA plans to begin making close-up studies of the Saturnian system with the Cassini Spacecraft.

Tomorrow's picture: Disorder in Stephan's Quintet

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
&: Michigan Tech. U.