Sun  Planets and Moons  ID: 4143

Saturn's Magnetosphere

Earth's magnetic field creates a 'bubble' around Earth that helps protect our planet from some of the more harmful effects of energetic particles streaming out from the sun in the solar wind. Some of the earliest hints of this interaction go back to the 1850s with the work of Richard Carrington, and in the early 1900s with the work of Kristian Birkeland and Carl Stormer. That this field might form a type of 'bubble' around Earth was hypothesized by Sidney Chapman and Vincent Ferraro in the 1930s. The term 'magnetosphere' was applied to magnetic bubble by Thomas Gold in 1959. But it wasn't until the Space Age, when we sent the first probes to other planets, that we found clear evidence of their magnetic fields (though there were hints of a magnetic field for Jupiter in the 1950s, due to observations from radio telescopes).

The Voyager program , two spacecraft launched in 1977, and successors to the Pioneer 10 and 11 missions, completed flybys of the giant outer planets. They became the implementation of the 'Grand Tour' of the outer planets originally proposed in the late 1960s. The Voyagers provided some of the first detailed measurments of the strength, extent and diversity of the magnetospheres of the outer planets.

In these visualizations, we present simplified models of these planetary magnetospheres, designed to illustrate their scale, and basic features of their structure and impacts of the magnetic axes offset from the planetary rotation axes.

For these visualizations, the magnetic field structure is represented by gold/copper lines. Some additional glyphs are provided to indicate some key directions in the field model.
  • The Yellow arrow points towards the sun. The magnetotail is pointed in the opposite direction.
  • The Cyan arrow represents the magnetic axis, usually tilted relative to the rotation axis. The arrow indicates the NORTH magnetic pole (convention has field lines moving north to south as the north pole of bar magnet (and compass pointer) points to the south magnetic pole).
  • The Blue arrow represents the north rotation axis. It is part of the 3-D axis glyph (red, green, and blue arrows) included to make the planetary rotation more apparent.
  • The semi-transparent grey mesh in the distance represents the boundary of the magnetosphere.

Major satellites of the planetary system are also included. When appropriate for the time window of the visualization, the Voyager flyby trajectories are indicated.

The models are constructed by combining the fields of a simple magnetic dipole, a current sheet (whose intensity is tuned match the scale of the magnetotail), and occasionally a ring current. This is a variation of the simple Luhmann-Friesen magnetosphere model. They are meant to be representative of the basic characteristics of the planetary magnetic fields. Some features NOT included are longitudes of magnetic poles to a standard planetary coordinate system and offsets of the dipole center from the planetary center.


Special thanks to Arik Posner (NASA/HQ) and Gina DiBraccio (UMBC/GSFC) for helpful pointers on orientation of planetary rotation and magnetic axes.

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Visualization Credits

Tom Bridgman (Global Science and Technology, Inc.): Lead Animator
Mara Johnson-Groh (Wyle Information Systems): Writer
Laurence Schuler (ADNET Systems, Inc.): Project Support
Ian Jones (ADNET Systems, Inc.): Project Support
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

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Data Used:
also referred to as: DE 430
Ephemeris - JPL NAIF
JPL DE 430
Luhmann-Friesen Magnetosphere Model (1979)/Magnetic Field Lines (Luhmann-Friesen)
Journal of Geophysical Research, vol. 84, Aug. 1, 1979, p. 4405-4408
Note: While we identify the data sets used in these visualizations, we do not store any further details nor the data sets themselves on our site.

This item is part of these series:
Voyager Retrospective
Planetary Magnetospheres

SVS >> Magnetosphere
SVS >> Hyperwall
NASA Science >> Sun
NASA Science >> Planets and Moons
SVS >> Saturn