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Saturn Aurora Campaign

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Saturn Aurora Campaign -- Introduction

Saturn conjunction
The Sun is poised to reach a high point in its activity cycle, called solar maximum. Click on image for a larger version.
Like it does every 11 years or so, the sun is expected to reach maximum levels of activity in May 2013 – something astronomers call, "Solar Maximum."

This is when there’s a peak in the sun’s activity cycle, corresponding with an increase in the number of solar storms.

On earth, these solar storms can disrupt radio communications and compromise electrical power systems. They also create the beautiful northern and southern lights.

As a bonus, during the 2013 Solar Maximum, Saturn will be at opposition, thus aligned with earth but on the opposite side from the sun.

When these solar storms reach Saturn, they influence the aurora there as well. During the Saturn Aurora Campaign, scientists interested in ‘space weather’ will be posting predictions of solar wind conditions at Saturn, based on observations at the Sun and near-earth.

The spacing of observations of the aurora over several weeks will allow scientists to examine the effects of different solar wind conditions.

Saturn at opposition, aligned with earth but on the opposite side from the sun
Saturn at opposition, aligned with earth but on the opposite side from the sun
During this campaign, Cassini's Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVIS), Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS), and Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS) observe both the planet's southern and northern aurora while the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope and the surface-based telescopes Subaru, Keck, and IRTF observe Saturn's northern auroral region, which is visible from Earth. These coordinated measurements are intended to provide unprecedented simultaneous observations of the aurora in both hemispheres across UV, visible, and IR wavelengths over long timescales. The effects of different solar wind and magnetospheric conditions can be examined given the spacing of these multiple observations over several weeks.

Findings and data will be published on this space – check back often for the latest results.

Although 2013 is predicted to be the year of solar maximum, scientists have known for some time that the Sun’s behavior in recent years has been anomalous. 2013 is predicted to be the year of Solar Max, the peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle, yet solar activity is relatively low - sunspot numbers are well below their values in 2011, and strong solar flares have been infrequent for many months.

According to some scientists, this is solar maximum, but it looks different than what we expected and may be double peaked. During previous solar cycles The last two solar maxima, around 1989 and 2001, had not one but two peaks. Solar activity went up, dipped, then resumed, performing a mini-cycle that lasted about two years.

The same thing could be happening now.

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