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Title: Discovery of Atmospheric-Wind-Driven Electric Currents in Saturn's Magnetosphere in the Gap Between Saturn and its Rings
Authors: Khurana, KK
Dougherty, MK
Provan, G
Hunt, GJ
Kivelson, MG
Cowley, SWH
Southwood, DJ
Russell, CT
First Published: 3-Oct-2018
Publisher: American Geophysical Union (AGU), Wiley
Citation: Geophysical Research Letters, 2018, 45 (19), pp. 10,068-10,074
Abstract: Magnetic field observations obtained by the Cassini spacecraft as it traversed regions inside of Saturn's D ring packed a genuine surprise. The azimuthal component of the magnetic field recorded a consistent positive perturbation with a strength of 15–25 nT near closest approach. The closest approaches were near the equatorial plane of Saturn and were distributed narrowly around local noon and brought the spacecraft to within 2,550 km of Saturn's cloud tops. Modeling of this perturbation shows that it is not of internal origin but is produced by external currents that couple the low-latitude northern ionosphere to the low-latitude southern ionosphere. The azimuthal perturbations diminish at higher latitudes on field lines that connect to Saturn's icy rings. The sense of the current system suggests that the southern feet of the field lines in the ionosphere leads their northern counterparts. We show that the observed field perturbations are consistent with a field-aligned current whose strength is ~1 MA/radian, that is, comparable in strength to the planetary-period-oscillation-related current systems observed in the auroral zone. We show that the Lorentz force in the ionosphere extracts momentum from the faster moving low-latitude zonal belt and delivers it to the northern ionosphere. We further show that the electric current is generated when the two ends of a field line are embedded in zonal flows with differing wind speeds in the low-latitude thermosphere. The wind-generated currents dissipate 2 × 1011W of thermal power, similar to the input from the solar extreme ultraviolet flux in this region.
DOI Link: 10.1029/2018GL078256
ISSN: 0094-8276
eISSN: 1944-8007
Version: Publisher Version
Status: Peer-reviewed
Type: Journal Article
Rights: Copyright © 2018, American Geophysical Union (AGU), Wiley. Deposited with reference to the publisher’s open access archiving policy. (
Description: The data used in this work are readily available from the Planetary Data System.
Appears in Collections:Published Articles, Dept. of Physics and Astronomy

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