Mapping Saturn's magnetosphere

2 March 2012

Illustration of plasma production in Saturn's inner magnetosphere.

When walking or driving somewhere new most people would take a map or a GPS device to find their way around. Planetary scientists usually make maps of the surfaces of planetary bodies to understand surface features. For the most part, the magnetospheres (space environments) of the planets are invisible. We have to use instruments that detect particles and magnetic fields to find our way around, like using senses of taste, smell and touch to understand where we are inside a magnetosphere.

The magnetosphere of Saturn has recently been mapped in a study led by MSSL scientists. Using the extensive observations made by the fields and particles instruments on Cassini the various structures in the magnetosphere were mapped out. This allowed us to identify the interactions between different parts of the magnetosphere - for example seeing the extincion of energetic particles as they try to push through Saturn's E-ring but where very energetic ions and electrons can get through unimpeded. The illustration on the right shows one of the maps produced in this study.

Map of Saturn's noon magnetosphere. Credit: C.S. Arridge

Saturn's magnetosphere is very large and extends well beyond Titan's orbit (about 1.2 million km from Saturn). This mapping work provides new perspectives on such a large complex system, poses new scientific questions that need to be resolved, and provides a new reference for scientists and students new to the field.

For more information please see:

  • Arridge et al. (2012) Mapping Magnetospheric Equatorial Regions at Saturn from Cassini Prime Mission Observations. Space Sci. Rev., 164(1-4), pp. 1-83, doi:10.1007/s11214-011-9850-4, 17 January 2012.

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