Saturn's Weather‐Driven Aurorae Modulate Oscillations in the Magnetic Field and Radio Emissions

M. Nahid Chowdhury, T. S. Stallard, K. H. Baines, Gabrielle Provan, Henrik Melin, G. J. Hunt, Luke Moore, James O’Donoghue, Emma M. Thomas, Ruoyan Wang, Steve Miller, Sarah V. Badman

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The Cassini spacecraft revealed that Saturn's magnetic field displayed oscillations at a period originally thought to match the planetary rotation rate but later found not to. One of many proposed theories predicts that a polar twin-cell neutral weather system drives this variation, producing observable differences in flows within Saturn's ionosphere. Here, using spectral observations of auroral H+3 emission lines taken by the Keck Observatory's Near Infrared Echelle Spectrograph (Keck-NIRSPEC) in 2017, we derive ion line-of-sight velocity maps after grouping spectra into rotational quadrants matching phases of the planetary magnetic field. We measure 0.5 km s−1 wind systems in the ionosphere consistent with predicted neutral twin-vortex flow patterns. These findings demonstrate that neutral winds in Saturn's polar regions cause the rotational period, as determined via the magnetic field, to exhibit differences and time variabilities relative to the planet's true period of rotation in a process never before seen within planetary atmospheres.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021GL096492
Number of pages7
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number3
Early online date7 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2022
Externally publishedYes


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