Enceladus and Saturn are Linked by Electromagnetic Currents


The geysers and jets of Enceladus have just become more intriguing. A glowing patch of ultraviolet light near Saturn’s north pole appears to be evidence of a magnetic connection between the planet and the icy, geyser-spewing moon. Data from the Cassini spacecraft have revealed that the jets of gas and icy grains that emanate from the south pole of Enceladus become electrically charged and form an ionosphere, and the motion of Enceladus and its ionosphere through a magnetic bubble that surrounds Saturn acts like a dynamo, setting up a newly-discovered electrical current system that links the moon to the planet.

This video demonstrates the hiss-like radio noise generated by electrons moving along magnetic field lines from Enceladus to a glowing patch of ultraviolet light on Saturn.

Cassini’s Plasma Spectrometer’s electron spectrometer, (CAPS-ELS) has detected the beams of electrons that flow back and forth between Saturn and Enceladus. Magnetic field lines, invisible to the human eye but detectable by the fields and particles instruments on the spacecraft, arc from Saturn’s north polar region to south polar region. Enceladus resides in the arc of a set of the field lines and feeds charged particles into the Saturn atmosphere. The finding is part of a paper published in Nature.

From data Cassini collected in 2008, scientists saw a glowing patch of ultraviolet light emissions near Saturn’s north pole that marked the presence of a circuit between the two bodies, even though the moon is 240,000 kilometers (150,000 miles) away from the planet.

The patch occurs at the end of a magnetic field line connecting Saturn and its moon Enceladus. The area, known as an auroral footprint, is the spot where energetic electrons dive into the planet’s atmosphere, following magnetic field lines that arc between the planet’s north and south polar regions.

“The footprint discovery at Saturn is one of the most important fields and particle revelations from Cassini and ultimately may help us understand Saturn’s strange magnetic field,” said Marcia Burton, a Cassini fields and particles scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It gives us the first visual connection between Saturn and one of its moons.”

The auroral footprint measures approximately 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) by less than 400 kilometers (250 miles), covering an area comparable to California or Sweden. At its brightest, the footprint shone with an ultraviolet light intensity far less than Saturn’s polar auroral rings, but comparable to the faintest aurora visible at Earth without a telescope in the visible light spectrum. Scientists have not found a matching footprint at the southern end of the magnetic field line.

Scientists already knew that the giant planet Jupiter is linked to three of its moons by charged current systems set up by the satellites orbiting inside its giant magnetic bubble, the magnetosphere, and that these current systems form glowing spots in the planet’s upper atmosphere. The latest discovery at Enceladus shows that similar processes take place at the Saturnian system too.

“This now looks like a universal process — Jupiter’s moon Io is the most volcanic object in the solar system, and produces a bright spot in Jupiter’s aurora, “ said Dr. Andrew Coates from the University College in London, a co-author of the new paper. “Now, we see the same thing at Saturn — the variable and majestic water-rich Enceladus plumes, probably driven by cryovolcanism, cause electron beams which create a significant spot in Saturn’s aurora too.”

Paper: Wayne R. Pryor et al, “The auroral footprint of Enceladus on Saturn”, Nature, 472, 331–333, doi:10.1038/nature09928

Sources: University College, London, NASA

52 Replies to “Enceladus and Saturn are Linked by Electromagnetic Currents”

  1. One of the press releases notes “one of Saturn’s diminutive moons, is linked to Saturn by powerful electrical currents”, but doesn’t quantify it. It would be interesting to compare with other similar processes.

    The article notes “beams of electrons that flow back and forth between Saturn and Enceladus.”. I wonder whether they move back and forth along the same magnetic arc between Saturn and its moon, or continue from one arc to the other.

    Both press releases mention (positive charged) ion too, but it is not clear whether they are moving in the same direction as the electrons (the press releases says they move parallel to the magnetic field), which would suggest that the ions move in the same direction, but presumably spiral in the opposite direction.

    Finally, the article notes that “This now looks like a universal process” with a comparison to Jupiter and its moon. I wonder whether it as similar process to the recently discovered “flux ropes” between the Sun and Earth. See the NASA page on “NASA Spacecraft Make New Discoveries About Northern Lights” (http://) goo.gl/8bmo6

    1. iantresman, I have been wondering.

      If the Sun is + charged, and the Earth is – charged, then they will attract each other right? Now what charge has the moon?

      Second question. How big is the charge of the Sun, the Earth and the Moon? Give us some numbers so we can cross-check your claims.

      Third question assume that the Earth is negative charged? How come my hair does not stand up caused by the excessive elections like 2 gold leaves here on Earth?

      1. 1. No, if the objects were charged, they wouldn’t “see” each other because the interplanetary medium would form a sheath around them.

        2&3. Good question. This NASA web page notes that Earth’s “[fair weather field] is about 100 volts per meter, meaning that the electric potential increases by about 200 volts from the ground to the top of Michael Jordan’s head when he’s standing still. [but because] air is an excellent insulator, [..] your hair does not stand on end”. See “Soaking in atmospheric electricity – NASA Science” (http://) goo.gl/2cAjY

        The Wikipedia article on the “Natural electric field of the Earth” suggests that “The Earth is negatively charged, carrying 500,000 Coulombs (C) of electric charge (500 kC), and is at 300,000 volts (V), 300 kV,[1][2] relative to the positively charged ionosphere.” (see references therein)

        And there have been many papers on local charging of the Moon’s surface due to (a) the photoelectric effect (b) interaction with the local plasma environment (c) contact charging of dust, and more recently. (d) the Earth’s magnetotail charging the Moon’s surface.

      2. The wiki also says this;

        “The Earth is negatively charged, carrying 500,000 Coulombs (C) of electric charge (500 kC), and is at 300,000 volts (V), 300 kV,[1][2] relative to the positively charged ionosphere.”

        We have both the + and – charge near Earth making the complete Earth charge neutral relative towards the sun. The charges cancel each other out when you go above the atmosphere.

        But you still did not give credible numbers that would be able to calculate the orbits. How much charge and what sign does the sun have in and how much charge and sign does the Earth have? Also what charge has the Moon so it stays in orbit around Earth and not get attracted by the Sun?

        With the gravitational formula I can calculate the orbit, so show me the numbers that makes the EU calculations of the orbits as accurate as gravity only.

        I just calculated, the Sun has a +500,000 C, Earth -500,000C then the attracting force at 1 AU would be 0.1N. ONLY 0.1 Newton force holding Earth in orbit around the sun?

        The same coulomb force pulling on the moon if Earth is -500,000C and the moon +500,000C would be 15,202 N! The space shuttle has 830 times more force whet it takes off!

      3. Right, it is basically a planetary or atmospheric form of a capacitor. This business of there being sheaths in the interplanetary medium and its putative role in EM mechanics of the solar system is pure rubbish.


      4. @Olaf. Agreed, the complete Earth charge is neutral relative towards the sun, and I’ve never said otherwise.

        @Olaf wrote: “you still did not give credible numbers that would be able to calculate the orbits”

        Because (a) I don’t know the figures (b) the charges on the bodies have absolutely nothing to do with their orbits (c) there is no coulomb force pulling on the Moon/Earth. I really don’t know why you would think that I would think otherwise.

      5. iantresman, I am surprised, you just told that EU/PC has no relationship whatsoever for the orbits of the planets.

      6. Not quite, I implied that electrostatic plays no part, which is not quite the same thing. But whatever the mechanism, I am not aware that charging plays any role in the dynamic of the planets, which is consistent with your statement.

      7. Mr. Tresman, you should be a bloody lawyer — you always manage to weasel your way out of any accusation!

      8. There’s nothing to “weasel” out of, since the accusation is based on a misunderstanding, m’lord.

  2. If you’re not interested in discovering more about these recent discovers, you can always hang out at the 19th hole.

    1. Au contraire, I’m very interested in discovering more about these events; I just don’t need you to repeat what I’ve already read and what’s what!

      Furthermore, hanging out at the 19th hole is the only good suggestion you’ve made so far in the comments section on Universe Today!

      1. really? i thought his comments in this article have been informative and interesting. on the other hand your posts in here attacking him were neither informative or interesting. good day sir.

      2. Couldn’t agree more Solarx2! And kudos to iantresman for taking the time to answer someone’s questions.

        I rarely read comments here anymore because of the intellectual arrogance and nerd rage I’ve see from the likes Ivan on Universe Today. Very rarely do/did I find intelligent discussions even though many of the people who comment come across as really smart and knowledgeable. Such a wasted resource this.

        Trolls rule the internet.

      1. I have no idea. But if you are suggesting a sockpuppet, I believe that the WordPress CMS software can detect socks that use the IP address (although it can be circumvented).

        Either way, I hope we are all friends on UT, even though we may sometimes disagree with each other’s points of view.

  3. While normally I feel iamtresman is way off the mark (note our discussion on nebula and their relation to “sonic” shocks), I think his links look valid and have some merit. Can someone with expertise in these areas weigh in?

    1. @ Holographic Galaxy

      We might know more of what you are actually asking if you just talk in simple ways –without the non-standard assumptions you seem to delight in make on your website and these comments we see.

      I ask any questions I ask because I wish to know; you ask them because you wish to show what you know. You do this regardless of the state of truth or falsehood that these facts you entertain might possess in the real world, the consensual world if you will, that the remainder of us share –mostly– via our views and scientific stances.

      Plausible deniablity not withstanding, several of the facts, true as they are individually, are not related to each other nor to the question you demand be looked into, your request that we undertake some effort to answer for you. You assume two things at least with this demand, first that the answer, when found, will validate some belief you harbor; next, that your question is meaningful in the form you phrased. This is the crux of the matter I will state.

      I usually do not take someone to task for unusual usage of this, our common english language –by no means would I be considered an authority in any of these areas of science nor of the language I was born to, english.

      I do wish to understand exactly your question though, since we all understand that the hardest part of any question is to formulate the question correctly; and since the answer comes from the question as it were. Could you restate your question after setting the stage for that question using english in proper form, logical form, such that we might obtain a true measure of your actual question.

      This question would be a layman’s question or an expert’s question or anywhere the questions falls between these points.

      After visiting your website I feel I can make the following assumption, you are not a native english speaker. If this task of forming scientific sentences with inherent scientific values and terms is not something which would come easy to you by reason of this condition, then, by all means, feel free to not pose the question again in any form and we will have to take a stab in the dark as to your actual question via all the assumptions you have made in the demand or request for an answer to ‘something’ you can not express correctly in english.

      The “demand for an analysis of earth’s moon and surface” for example, you are asking us to examine the earth’s moon and the earth’s surface with the phrasing of that statement.

      Did you actually mean, “you wish to have the earth moon system examined” with a view to a thought you are entertaining that “they are connected in a similar fashion, to each other,” as the article indicates Saturn and several of the moons orbiting that body, and Jupiter and the moons orbiting that body.

      The article indicated the auroral footprint is due to a different mechanism that you posit on your website though, are you aware of that?

      Not all the moons of Jupiter seem to be connected to the body, none at present seem to be connected to each of the other moons individually or collectively. The same might hold as true for the future and we might extend this into the past, either in terms of recent geology or more distant in time and fact and long ago for either of the two orbital systems in question, Jupiter or Saturn, and their many moons. These would be assumptions not answers though, you are aware of the differences I feel, correct? The data suggests you are wrong via the nature of your setting up statements and the form of your question’s answer.

      Additionally you say:

      The orbital motion of these moons on Jupiter and Saturn, can be tracked by these polar vortices, which is done by Gravity.

      What do you mean “by gravity” — that gravity is able to track any of these polar vortices, that it causes the vortices, what exactly do you mean –you have lost me here, please explain.

      You also state:

      The EM force is either attractive or repulsive, with the square of the distance, much like Gravity.

      Are you saying that gravity is attractive and repulsive in the fashion of EM forces which are both attractive and repulsive? I do not think you can equate these two forces in that fashion as of yet. This might be something to dwell on, which you should know, facts do not usually reverse themselves as is done by persons who hold viewpoints and opinions.

      Below here (pulled quote) you go on to suggest the two forces might prove to be the same, as I think you state further on in that pulled quote you understand that these two forces are not the same and seem a bit disappointed by that. You go on to state that scientists would LOVE to find out… really, is that your intent, to convince us that science is unhappy with the current standard model and waiting for something better to spring from the ground and replace it?

      Scientists would love to find out if Gravity and the EM force could actually be the same force, but of course, that has been proven to be impossible, so far…

      The ‘so far…’ comment and the implications of its truthful state, to be true or to not be true, begs the question. This is your assumption and, frankly, has been proven to be answered many times as, “no, they are not the same force” how many times you ask — as many times as that task has been undertaken. Test it your self please, tell us the answers you achieve and THEN you can hold to your stance as expressed on your website and in these ‘questions and comments’ you toss out here.

      What is your question anyway? I see only statements of fact, assumptions and surmise, mixed with some amount of a firm belief system.

      It is this belief system which compels your proselytizing of folks to your views, these views which have been proven many times to be untrue, not quite true, mis-attributed and in some cases, baldly stating lies plucked from papers which do not address the actual subject matter you are positing them to support.

      Please, if you wish to argue from a point outside mainstream science, provide provable points in your defense and do not pile up disjointed facts mixed with your personal assumptions. Many of which are false on the face of them yet you underpin a foundation with these as support. Mighty risky erecting ladders and leaning them against this house of cards and I suggest you refrain from throwing up these ladders to scale the battlements of science while your siege engine is sinking under the weight of your baggage.

      Mike C

      1. My comment here did not violate the comment policy.
        The personal attack was towards me, I should have a right to defend myself.
        Actually by deleting Mr. Hologram’s post, you then forced my post to then be violating the rules.

  4. BUZZ zaP! Y’all…. I can hear the HUMMMM fromm here! Source of Saturn’s radio outbursts?

  5. The electric field of the Earth, which is easy enough to deduce from the Wikipedia site Iantresman links, is a dipole or capacitor effect between the ground and the ionosphere. The is a voltage gradient, which is sustained by an influx of energy, and does not represent an idea that Earth has an overall net charge with respect to the sun. Clearly since the sun streams out charged particles any such charge or E field would be neutralized. So the idea there are electric forces between the sun and the Earth are not substantiated by this.

    The suggestion by Hollowgoofygalaxy that there is a substantial interaction between the Earth and the moon by magnetic fields is pure bilgewater.

    The UT writers who publish articles which involve plasma physics in space and related issues should be vigilant with respect to these posts and delete them as soon as they become apparent.


    1. LC wrote: “The is a voltage gradient, which is sustained by an influx of energy, and does not represent an idea that Earth has an overall net charge with respect to the sun. Clearly since the sun streams out charged particles any such charge or E field would be neutralized”

      Agreed. Regions are neutral, though it does depend on what you take as your region. Spacecraft are charged negatively by the charged particles in the interplanetary medium, but is surrounded by positive sheath. Overall it is neutral, but the spacecraft, and presumably meteorites and dust are all charged negatively by space plasmas. Other factor such as photoionization charge positively, so its a bit more complicated.

      See for example, “Spacecraft Charging Effects” by H.B. Garrett at NASA JPL page on Jupiter Europa Orbiter Radiation and Planetary Protection Tutorials (item #4)

  6. LC wrote: “The UT writers who publish articles which involve plasma physics in space and related issues should be vigilant with respect to these posts and delete them as soon as they become apparent.”

    I think we have to be careful, as I believe that most people are genuinely learning. For example, you mention that “The suggestion by Hollowgoofygalaxy that there is a substantial interaction between the Earth and the moon by magnetic fields is pure bilgewater”.

    I believe that the Moon is charged when it passes through the Earth’s magnetotail. See “Astronomers Discover That The Earth’s Magnetotail Charges The Surface Of The Moon” @ ScienceDaily, October 1, 2008. This may not be exactly what the poster had in mind, but I think it is not clear cut.

  7. @iantresman: The exchange of charged particles between planetary bodies is not enough to adjust the orbital dynamics of these bodies. This finding with Enceladus is similar to the ion dynamics with Io around Jupiter. Yet none of this gives any credence to ideas about how electromagnetism organizes the large scale structure of the solar system.


    1. LC wrote: “The exchange of charged particles between planetary bodies is not enough to adjust the orbital dynamics of these bodies.”

      Absolutely, otherwise we’d be considering using electrostatics which is not appropriate in a plasma.

      LC wrote: “Yet none of this gives any credence to ideas about how electromagnetism organizes the large scale structure of the solar system.”

      I think that depends on the ideas. Electromagnetism” certainly influences smaller dust particle, such as those in Saturn’s rings, the Earth’s ionopshere, and now we see Saturn’s Moon-auroral coupling. Does any of this have a knock-on effect? Perhaps. But I agree there is no direct influence, on for example, planetary orbits.

  8. To mgmirkin, sol88, and all the others who have been violating the Universe Today comment policy, by promoting anti-science ‘electric universe’ material: please take the time to understand this paragraph, placed prominently on this plasma universe website:
    “The Plasma Universe and Plasma Cosmology have no ties to the anti-science blogsites of the holoscience ‘electric universe’.” Despite a guideline which would suggest otherwise (“All posts to the scientific parts of the forum should be confined to properly constructed scientific arguments either supporting or challenging published Electric Universe theory”), the thunderbolts website is just as much anti-science as holoscience is. If you want to present, and defend, “Electric Universe theory” (sic) ideas, you are totally free to start up your own website and blog away; you can also start a thread in BAUT’s Against the Mainstream section (but do be sure to not violate their rules).

    1. … the thunderbolts website is just as much anti-science as holoscience is.

      Yeah, and as long as Mr. Tresman is a member of “thunderbolts.info”, I will be suspicious of his motives for posting comments on Universe Today!

      1. Excellent, that is what science is all about, being constructively cynical, especially of new material that is not always understood well.

    2. Again, EU/PC is effectively banned from that site, and such threads will be closed.
      I suggest you just carte blanche effectively remove EU/PC altogether.
      They have been coming to Universe because they know they will get away with it.

      Also I expect you should discuss this carefully with Frazier too, as he states that he likes “alternative views” in comments. That’s what attracted them here in the first place!

      1. This is the second time you’ve stated this incorrectly. The actually position is described in this BAUT post.

  9. Enceladus and Saturn are Linked by Electromagnetic Currents.
    Actually, are not Io and Jupiter also known to be linked by Electromagnetic currents?
    The linking is more likely due to bodies not being permeability to electric or magnetic fields. What likely happens is an interaction with the tenuous atmosphere and the stronger planetary field that affects it. It should not be uncommon or unexpected, and that the field strengths compared to the sun is fairly trivial.

  10. I mean this is a resonable question to ask a scientific based board such as the excellent BA and UT, but, people are a bit touchy about plasma and electric current in space so I”’ ask any way.

    Is 1.2×10^14 Watts a lot?

  11. @Hon. Salacious B. Crumb

    Wow you bag the EU/PC universe and in the next breath say “It should not be uncommon or unexpected” and that bodies SHOULD be expected to do such things and “Again, EU/PC is effectively banned from that site, and such threads will be closed.” , my question why?

    1. A bit rich and quite an amazing comment by you. Considering you were seemingly banned from the BAUT forum on 1st September 2006. On the 12th October you proclaimed as a ‘badge of honour’ on the thunderbolts.info “Up to my 16th time of being banned from the BAUT forum…” (I won’t post the link as it might embarrass you, though please ask.)

      This also applies to fellow EU/PC proponent Forrest Noble via “The Pan Theory”; http://www.bautforum.com/member.php/30016-forrest-noble

      (There are several others, too)

      Needless to say, PC/EU proponents are considered troublemakers on many forums and site. Wherever “electric” or “magnetic” are mentioned in a title, there you guys are waving the banner on your “ATM” Against the Mainstream rhetoric; again advertising your “wares”.

      It is interesting that the Rules of posting on the BAUT Forum have changed (iantresman ignores them and just posts an earlier version to misguide others (again).)

      They say as of the 30th March 2011;

      13. Alternative Concepts and Conspiracy Theories.

      “We insist you keep your Against the Mainstream (ATM) or Conspiracy Theory (CT) topics about space and astronomy. We will close down any thread which doesn’t have anything to do with space and astronomy immediately. If you aren’t sure your idea qualifies, PM any Moderator for advice.
      Keep promotion of your ATM/CT theories and ideas to only those Against the Mainstream or Conspiracy Theory threads which discuss them. You may not hijack other discussions or otherwise draw attention to your ideas anywhere else on the BAUT forums.”

      13A. Against the Mainstream
      People will vigorously challenge your arguments; that’s what science and scientists do. If you cannot handle a frank and critical examination of your theory, then maybe you need to rethink your theory. Remember: you came here. It’s our job to question new theories. Those that are strong will survive, and may become part of mainstream science. All such discussions must be kept polite and respectful, by all parties.
      Your ATM thread will be closed after 30 days. Extensions may be granted by Moderators/Admins, if circumstances warrant. Once an ATM idea has been presented, it may not be presented again unless you have information not available the first time.
      You may have only one thread active at a time in ATM. If you ask to have a thread closed before the 30 days limit so that you may open a new thread, the old thread will not be reopened later.
      If you post an ATM idea elsewhere, it will be split off to an ATM thread. That new split thread will be locked on creation, if there’s a current one open, to be unlocked when the current one times-out at 30 days. The 30 day count for the new one, however, starts on creation, not unlocking. (See preceding paragraphs.)
      You must defend your arguments and directly answer pertinent questions in a timely manner. Honestly answering “I don’t know” is acceptable. Evasiveness will not be tolerated.
      If it appears that you are using circular reasoning, depending on long-debunked arguments, or breaking any of these other rules, you will receive one warning, and if that warning goes unheeded, you will receive infractions, which can lead to suspension or banishment.
      The ATM forum is not the place for speculative discussion. Whether you are presenting your own ideas or those of another, you are responsible for defending them according to the provisions above. If you have a question about an ATM idea, you may pose it in Q&A, but you may not advocate it there.”

      Here there are more than a dozen reasons to remove EU/PC. Why? You highjack all stories with “magnetic” or “electric” fields at every opportunity as a “interested observer” just to fool others to think it is all “mainstream.”

      You come to Universe Today to avoid the scrutiny applied to the BAUT forum, especially after you have been chastised for openly or repeatably breaking the BAUT forum rules.

      Despite Jean Tate’s statement, as I’ve said; PC/EU is effectively banned from the BAUT site.

      So now does that answer your question honestly??

  12. Given that many of these moons orbit well within the magnet fields of the parent planets, it’s natural to think that some type of interaction is going on. That doesn’t mean it’s the only force involved, though.

      1. @Ian

        Yes, that link is broken, has been broken, and is not the set of rules used here, they inspire the rules setup for here. These linked rules do not act in superseding UTs rules in other words, to be fair and blunt. The fact you are pointing to this broken link in this fashion causes folks to wonder in the wrong fashion. It also demonstrates your desire for muddying the waters yet again, please refrain from this activity.

        Hard as it might seem to you to do you really need to observe your own actions though the eyes of others. Going again the herd is fine, getting the attention of the sheepdog via a guiding nip might be all it takes to cause further reflection.

        Remember, Ian, only you can prevent the positive reception of your presence, only you can assist yourself, and only you need change -to stand out as a misfit and not fit in as a standout it takes you.

        Mike C

      2. @Mr Mike

        Seven posts on this page have been replaced by the text: {Violation of comment policy: text deleted} which includes a note that the rules are inspired by the BAUT forum rules. I mentioned the broken link because (a) it looks naff (b) it is fixable.

        When people note broken links on my own sites, I thank them and fix them.

        “Remember, Ian, only you can prevent the positive reception of your presence, only you can assist yourself, and only you need change -to stand out as a misfit and not fit in as a standout it takes you.”

        I’m not the one going around calling people misfits or liars or worse, which falls far short of the standards I would expect from so-called scientific people.

        I can see nothing contentious in any of my posts on this page, except perhaps this one, and I’m quite sure you are able to rise above it all.

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