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Cassini sees Saturn's electric link with Enceladus

This artist's concept shows a glowing patch of ultraviolet light near Saturn's North Pole that occurs at the

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA (BNS): NASA is releasing the first images and sounds of an electrical connection between Saturn and one of its moons, Enceladus.

Scientists have previously theorized that an electrical circuit exists at Saturn. After analyzing data that Cassini collected in 2008, scientists saw a glowing patch of ultraviolet light emissions near Saturn's north pole that marked the presence of a circuit, even though the moon is 240,000 kilometers (150,000 miles) away from the planet.

The patch occurs at the end of a magnetic field line connecting Saturn and its moon Enceladus. The area, known as an auroral footprint, is the spot where energetic electrons dive into the planet's atmosphere, following magnetic field lines that arc between the planet's north and south Polar Regions.

"The footprint discovery at Saturn is one of the most important fields and particle revelations from Cassini and ultimately may help us understand Saturn's strange magnetic field," said Marcia Burton, a Cassini fields and particles scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

"It gives us the first visual connection between Saturn and one of its moons."

"The new data are adding fuel to the fire of some long-standing debates about this active little moon," said Abigail Rymer, lead author of the Nature study and a Cassini team scientist based at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

"Scientists have been wondering whether the venting rate is variable, and these new data suggest that it is." The results of the data analysis are published in the journals Nature.

The data collected by the agency's Cassini spacecraft has enabled scientists to improve their understanding of the complex web of interaction between the planet and its numerous moons, NASA said.


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