Formation of Saturn's ring spokes by lightning-induced electron beams

G. H. Jones, N. Krupp, H. Krüger, E. Roussos, W. H. Ip, D. G. Mitchell, S. M. Krimigis, J. Woch, A. Lagg, M. Fränz, M. K. Dougherty, C. S. Arridge, H. J. McAndrews

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21 Scopus citations


Spokes are near-linear markings sometimes visible on Saturn's rings. They are widely accepted as being electrostatically-levitated sheets of ∼0.6 micron-radius charged grains. Previously-suggested causes of the grains' charging do not agree with all spoke characteristics, which include their rapid generation, localized formation primarily in Saturn's midnight-dawn sector, the seasonality of their apparitions, and, crucially, their morphologies. We contend that spokes are caused by lightning-induced electron beams striking the rings, at locations magnetically-connected to thunderstorms. This view is supported by a semi-quantitative spoke morphology simulation. Spokes' formation locations are further controlled by Saturn's ionospheric density, which reaches a near-dawn minimum where electron beams can most easily propagate to the rings. The beams may generate observed X-ray emission, supply particles to Saturn's radiation belts, and over time will modify the rings' constituents. Finally, we report Cassini MIMI instrument observations of an electron burst which displays some characteristics expected of a lightning- induced event.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberL21202
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 2006


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