Dr Nick Achilleos – “The Cassini mission, investigating the magnetosphere of Saturn”

Nick is a scientist at the Atmospheric Physics Laboratory at University College London and kindly spared us the time to come up to talk to us about magnetic fields surrounding Saturn and Jupiter. These giant planets rotate very rapidly for their size and also contain a highly compressed form of hydrogen at their core which is essentially metallic. This means that a magnetic field is generated that extends away from the planet to form a magnetosphere. The intensity of this field is 550 and 18,000 times that of the earth for Saturn and Jupiter respectively, even though the field is still very weak (measured in microTeslas).

The work that Nick described was aimed at understanding how the magnetosphere is kept in place and what influences act upon it. In the case of the latter, certain satellites like Enceladus (Saturn) or Io (Jupiter) have physical characteristics that contribute charged particles to their planet’s magnetospheres. The forces that form the magnetosphere are a balance between the pressure of the solar wind that streams over all the planets and the magnetic field of the planet itself. These forces were explained (fairly gently) in mathematical terms, along with analyses of magnetometer data from the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. These measurements are freely available from NASA one year after original capture and are used by any group wishing to study planetary physics.

You can find more information about Nick’s work at his UCL homepage (http://www.homepages.ucl.ac.uk/~ucapnac) which includes a more detailed description of the magnetospheres of Saturn and Jupiter;

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