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Moon and Saturn

August 3, 2011

If you think that sounds like something from another world, you're right. It's from one of our neighbors right here in the solar system: the planet Saturn.

Scientists converted observations of the planet's radio waves made by the Cassini spacecraft to sound. The radio waves were produced by electrically charged particles moving through Saturn's magnetic field. The process is related to the one that creates the shimmering curtains of light known as auroras.

A recent study by astronomers at the University of Leicester says that similar types of radio signals could be used to find planets in other star systems.

With current search techniques, it's hard to find planets that are as far from their parent stars as Saturn or Jupiter are from the Sun.

But Saturn and Jupiter get a "boost" in their radio energy from interactions between their magnetic fields and orbiting moons that spew material into space. For example, Cassini caught this spike in Saturn's radio waves caused by the moon Enceladus, which shoots out geysers of water and ice.

The study says that telescopes here on Earth should be able to detect these kinds of radio signals out to distances of 150 light-years.

Saturn itself is only about one light-hour away. And it's in good view tonight, above the Moon. It looks like a bright golden star. The star Spica stands well to its left. More about this lineup tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


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