Spokes have not
been seen in Saturn's rings for
years. What caused them to return?
Sep 21, 2009
Radial shadows extending across
Saturn's ring plane, called
"spokes," were first detected by the
twin Voyager spacecraft as they flew
past the giant planet in November
1980 and then in August 1981.
However, when Cassini-Huygens
entered orbit around Saturn in July
2004, the spokes were gone. Five
years later, the now renamed Cassini-Equinox
high resolution imagers have seen
the spokes again.
Space scientists have been fortunate
to live in these times. Since the
launches of Voyagers 1 and 2, a
twenty-two year solar cycle has run
its course and another has begun.
Saturn has completed an entire
orbital revolution around the Sun,
so the ring plane has oscillated up
and down over that time because of
its equatorial tilt.
The Hubble Space Telescope has been
reengineered and fitted with optics
the likes of which were not even
imagined when it was launched in
1990. Unprecedented images of the
Saturnian system using its cameras,
as well as other new telescopes,
have confirmed the Electric Universe
hypothesis time after time since
those days ten and twenty years ago.
For example, between November 2007
and February 2008, scientists were
monitoring the largest lightning
storm ever seen in Saturn's
turbulent atmosphere using Hubble
and other ground-based telescopes:
3500 kilometers wide, with lighting
discharges 1000 times more powerful
than anything found on Earth.
Recently, a group from the Austrian
Academy of Sciences has discovered
another lightning storm that is the
longest lasting yet recorded,
lasting almost eight months, so far.
Using the Cassini-Equinox Radio and
Plasma Wave Science instrument, Dr.
Georg Fischer and his team
discovered radio wave emissions from
isolated locations in Saturn's lower
latitudes called "Storm
Alley." This may be a
reemergence of the powerful "Dragon
Storm" discussed in
previous Picture of the Day
Could there be a connection between
the solar cycles, Saturn's orbital
position, the spokes, and the
The Electric Universe theory
provides a consistent explanation
for most of the discoveries that
planetary scientists confess are
"puzzles" and "due to processes that
are poorly understood." For example,
the spokes are caused by radial
discharges from Saturn's
magnetosphere into its ionosphere
across the ring plane.
The rings are composed of large
chunks of material, but they contain
a high percentage of ultra-fine dust
that is easily ionized. Dusty plasma
tends to concentrate the discharges
in the plane of the rings. The
finely divided ring particles become
oppositely charged and move out of
and above the rings.
What reason is there for Saturn's
magnetospheric discharges then and
now? In the 1980s, the Sun's
electric activity, the solar sunspot
cycle, was at its maximum. Today the
solar cycle has just passed its
minimum phase. It is known that the
activity of solar maximum creates
electrical effects on Earth:
brighter auroras, disrupted power
transmission, and satellite
Are the spokes of Saturn an
expression of the sunspot cycle? Do
they appear at solar maximum and
minimum because that is when the
magnetic polarity reverses on the
Sun and Saturn is at a specific
orientation? Further analysis of
data from Cassini may provide
answers to those questions.
Saturn occasionally breaks out with
white spot" three times larger
than Earth. From an Electric
Universe perspective, intense
electric discharges deep in Saturn's
atmosphere cause vertical jets very
similar to the sprites in
Earth's upper atmosphere.
Saturn's electrical connection to
the current flow in the Solar System
can explain most of the effects that
Cassini and other science packages
have discovered on and around
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