Space Science & Space Physics Editors' Highlights

Newly Discovered Electric Current System Very Close to Saturn

In the tightly confined region between the innermost ring and the planet’s upper atmosphere, the Cassini spacecraft observed signatures of a previously undetected current system.

Source: Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics


At the end of its mission life, the orbit of the Cassini spacecraft was positioned to move ever closer to the planet, in what are known as the Grand Finale orbits. Nearly two dozen times, it squeezed between the innermost ring and the planet, continuing to make observations until its very last moments.

Using data from these orbits, Hunt et al. [2019] reveal a previously undetected electric current system deep in Saturn’s rings. They also construct a reasonable hypothesis for how it is connected to the planet’s upper atmosphere.  The “closure currents” in the ionosphere are comparable in size those in the auroral zone, which close field-aligned currents from the outer reaches of Saturn’s space environment. That is, this is substantial current system, but it is so close to the planet that it went undetected until these final orbits of the Cassini mission that sent the spacecraft inside the planetary rings.

Citation: Hunt, G. J., Cowley, S. W. H., Provan, G., Cao, H., Bunce, E. J., Dougherty, M. K., & Southwood, D. J. [2019]. Currents associated with Saturn’s intra‐D ring azimuthal field perturbations. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 124.

—Mike Liemohn, Editor-in-Chief, JGR: Space Physics

Text © 2019. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Except where otherwise noted, images are subject to copyright. Any reuse without express permission from the copyright owner is prohibited.