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Dance of Saturn’s Auroras

Ultraviolet and infrared images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and Hubble Space Telescope show active and quiet auroras at Saturn’s north and south poles.

Saturn’s auroras glow when energetic electrons dive into the planet’s atmosphere and collide with hydrogen molecules. Sometimes a blast of fast solar wind, composed of mostly electrons and protons, creates an active aurora at Saturn, as occurred on April 5 and May 20, 2013.

The first set of images, as seen in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum by Hubble, shows an active aurora dancing around Saturn’s north pole on April 5. The movie then shows a relatively quiet time between April 19 to 22 and between May 18 and 19. The aurora flares up again in Hubble images from May 20. This version, shown in false-color, has been processed to show the auroras more clearly.

A second set of ultraviolet images shows a closer view of an active north polar aurora in white. This set comes from Cassini ultraviolet imaging spectrograph observations on May 20 and 21.

The last set of images, in the infrared, shows a quiet southern aurora (in green) in observations from Cassini’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer on May 17. Saturn’s inner heat glows in red, with dark areas showing where high clouds block the heat.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Colorado/Central Arizona College and NASA/ESA/University of Leicester and NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Lancaster University

Source: JPL.




Kepler’s Universe: More planets in our galaxy than stars

Astronomers estimate that the Milky Way contains up to 400 billion stars and thanks to the Kepler mission, we can now estimate that every star in our galaxy has on average 1.6 planets in orbit around it.

This new video from our friends Tony Darnell and Scott Lewis focuses on the discoveries that the Kepler Space Telescope has made, which has opened up a whole new universe and a new way of looking at stars as potential homes for other planets. Only about 20 years ago, we didn’t know if there were any other planets around any other stars besides our own. But now we know we live in a galaxy that contains more planets than stars.

If you extrapolate that number to the rest of the Universe, it’s mind-blowing. According to astronomers, there are probably more than 170 billion galaxies in the observable Universe, stretching out into a region of space 13.8 billion light-years away from us in all directions.

And so, if you multiply the number of stars in our galaxy by the number of galaxies in the Universe, you get approximately 1024 stars. That’s a 1 followed by twenty-four zeros, or a septillion stars.

However, it’s been calculated that the observable Universe is a bubble of space 47 billion years in all directions… or it could be much bigger, possibly infinite. It’s just that we can’t detect those stars because they’re outside the observable Universe.

Think about this.




Exoplanets Visualized

Exploring our neighborhood with NASA, CERC, blprnt, Open Exoplanet Catalogue, The Kepler Orrery, xkcd, codementum, TULP, Exoplanet Data Explorer, exovis, and the Exoplanet App.

Join the search!

Incredible, beautiful visual resources for exploring the ever-growing family of exoplanets.

In addition to the great tools linked above, I’d recommend The New York Times' interactive feature on the Kepler Tally of exoplanets, which I’ve featured before.

Want more exoplanet goodness? I did a two-part video series for It’s Okay To Be Smart on YouTube

Searching for Other Earths

Searching for Other Intelligent Life

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