A mystery glows on Saturn | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

A mystery glows on Saturn

Scientists say the northern lights on Saturn are unlike anything they've ever seen, on Earth or elsewhere in the solar system. Infrared imagery from the Cassini orbiter, released today to accompany research published in the journal Nature, only adds to the mystery at the top of the ringed planet.

Saturn's north pole is already home to a bizarre six-sided cyclone that planetary scientists haven't yet figured out. That observation marked the first time a hexagon had been seen in atmospheric patterns. The northern auroral displays, monitored by Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, also go against the conventional wisdom.

On Earth and Jupiter, for instance, astronomers are used to seeing auroral arcs or rings of light - which glow when energetic particles stream along a planet's magnetic field and interact with the atmosphere. The auroras on Earth, also known as the northern or southern lights, are sparked by the solar wind. Jupiter's main auroral ring is powered by the planet's own magnetic processes.

Saturn's main auroral ring, like Earth's, is caused by the solar wind. But the newly observed infrared displays go all over the place.

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