This GIF shows a fast-paced light show on the north pole of Saturn, as captured by the European Space Agency’s Hubble Space Telescope in April and May of 2013. The images was just now released by the ESA.
I put together this animation using six new ultraviolet images, taken by Hubble’s super-sensitive Advanced Camera for Surveys. These images capture moments when Saturn’s magnetic field at the planet’s north pole is affected by bursts of particles streaming from the sun:
Here is the brief explanation of the phenomenon:
Saturn’s magnetosphere — the vast magnetic ‘bubble’ that surrounds the planet — is compressed on the Sunward side of the planet, and streams out into a long ‘magnetotail’ on the nightside.
It appears that when particles from the Sun hit Saturn, the magnetotail collapses and later reconfigures itself, an event that is reflected in the dynamics of its auroras.
Saturn was caught during a very dynamic light show — some of the bursts of light seen shooting around Saturn’s polar regions travelled more than three times faster than the speed of the gas giant’s roughly 10-hour rotation period!