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Multispectral simultaneous diagnosis of Saturn's aurorae throughout a planetary rotation

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


  • L. Lamy
  • R. Prangé
  • W. Pryor
  • J. Gustin
  • S. V. Badman
  • H. Melin
  • T. Stallard
  • D. G. Mitchell
  • P. C. Brandt
Journal publication date08/2013
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Number of pages27
Original languageEnglish


From 27 to 28 January 2009, the Cassini spacecraft remotely acquired combined observations of Saturn's southern aurorae at radio, ultraviolet, and infrared wavelengths, while monitoring ion injections in the middle magnetosphere from energetic neutral atoms. Simultaneous measurements included the sampling of a full planetary rotation, a relevant timescale to investigate auroral emissions driven by processes internal to the magnetosphere. In addition, this interval coincidentally matched a powerful substorm-like event in the magnetotail, which induced an overall dawnside intensification of the magnetospheric and auroral activity. We comparatively analyze this unique set of measurements to reach a comprehensive view of kronian auroral processes over the investigated timescale. We identify three source regions for the atmospheric aurorae, including a main oval associated with the bulk of Saturn Kilometric Radiation (SKR), together with polar and equatorward emissions. These observations reveal the coexistence of corotational and subcorototational dynamics of emissions associated with the main auroral oval. Precisely, we show that the atmospheric main oval hosts short-lived subcorotating isolated features together with a bright, longitudinally extended, corotating region locked at the southern SKR phase. We assign the substorm-like event to a regular, internally driven, nightside ion injection possibly triggered by a plasmoid ejection. We also investigate the total auroral energy budget, from the power input to the atmosphere, characterized by precipitating electrons up to 20 keV, to its dissipation through the various radiating processes. Finally, through simulations, we confirm the search-light nature of the SKR rotational modulation and we show that SKR arcs relate to isolated auroral spots. We characterize which radio sources are visible from the spacecraft and we estimate the fraction of visible southern power to a few percent. The resulting findings are discussed in the frame of pending questions as the persistence of a corotating field-aligned current system within a subcorotating magnetospheric cold plasma, the occurrence of plasmoid activity, and the comparison of auroral fluxes radiated at different wavelengths.

Bibliographic note

©2013. American Geophysical Union