In 2017, over seven months, the Hubble Space Telescope snapped the beautiful dance of the “northern light” on Saturn, spotted over the gas planet’s north pole. While auroras are common on Earth, they are also occurring on other planets, such as Jupiter, Neptune, and Uranus, even though more rarely then on our planet.
Auroras form when charged particles of solar winds hit the magnetosphere of a planet causing the gas particles in the atmosphere to light up. Regardless of what planet we’re talking, the phenomenon is forming pretty much in the same way.
On Earth, when “northern lights” occur, we can watch the spectacular dancing of auroras with the naked eye. However, on gas giants, such as Saturn, as they are majorly made of hydrogen and other gases surrounding a small, rocky core, the phenomenon can only become visible if observed in the ultraviolet light.
The “northern lights” on Saturn go brighter at dawn, a never-before-seen phenomenon
To capture such astonishing image, NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observed the second-largest planet of our solar system right after it summer solstice when Saturn had its north pole tilted towards the Sun.
Even though Hubble snapped Saturn’s auroras several times before, the new images the telescope took revealed that the brightness of these “northern lights” on Saturn is increasing at dawn.
That was a never-before-seen phenomenon. However, the astronomers think that has to be caused by the way the solar winds interact with the gas planet’s magnetosphere after the solstice and with the fast Saturn’s rotational speed.
On our planet, auroras reach between 100 and 500 km into the atmosphere, while “northern lights” on Saturn can stretch more than 1,200 km upward.
Jasmine holds a Master’s in Journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto and writes professionally in a broad variety of genres. She has worked as a senior manager in public relations and communications for major telecommunication companies, and is the former Deputy Director for Media Relations with the Modern Coalition. Jasmine writes primarily in our LGBTTQQIAAP and Science section.