Washington: Researchers have captured stunning images of Saturn`s auroras as the planet`s magnetic field is battered by charged particles from the Sun.
The team`s findings provide a "smoking gun" for the theory that Saturn`s auroral displays are often caused by the dramatic collapse of its "magnetic tail."
Just like comets, planets such as Saturn and the Earth have a "tail"-known as the magnetotail - that is made up of electrified gas from the Sun and flows out in the planet`s wake.
When a particularly strong burst of particles from the Sun hits Saturn, it can cause the magnetotail to collapse, with the ensuing disturbance of the planet`s magnetic field resulting in spectacular auroral displays. A similar process happens on Earth too.
Scientists observed this process happening on Saturn firsthand between April and May of 2013 as part of a three-year-long Hubble observing campaign.
The ultraviolet images, taken by Hubble`s super-sensitive Advanced Camera for Surveys, capture moments when Saturn`s magnetic field is affected by bursts of particles streaming out from the Sun.
Due to the composition of Saturn`s atmosphere, its auroras shine brightly in the ultraviolet range of the electromagnetic spectrum. This observation campaign using Hubble meant the astronomers were able to gather an unprecedented record of the planet`s auroral activity.
The team caught Saturn during a very dynamic light show. Some of the bursts of light seen shooting around Saturn`s polar regions travelled at over three times faster than the speed of the gas giant`s rotation.
The findings are set to be published in Geophysical Research Letters , a journal of the America Geophysical Union.