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Chandra X-ray Image
of Saturn
(Credit: NASA/MSFC/CXC/
A.Bhardwaj et al.)

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Saturn:
NASA's Chandra Finds That Saturn Reflects X-rays From Sun


Saturn
Credit: Chandra X-ray: NASA/MSFC/CXC/A.Bhardwaj et al.; GOES-12 X-ray: NOAA/SEC

Chandra observations of Saturn (upper panel) show that Saturns atmosphere acts like a mirror that reflects explosive activity on the Sun (lower panel).

On January 20, 2004 a large flare erupted on the Sun. The flare lasted for 36 minutes and was detected by radio and optical telescopes, as well as an X-ray telescope (lower panels) aboard GOES-12, one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites.

About two hours and 14 minutes later, Saturn was observed by Chandra to brighten in X-rays. This time delay corresponds to the difference in time it takes for X-rays, or any other form of light, to make the trip from the Sun to Saturn and back to Earth as opposed to traveling directly from the Sun to the Earth.

This observation demonstrates that the upper atmospheres of the giant planets Saturn and Jupiter act as diffuse mirrors that reflect solar X-rays. Although their atmospheres reflect less than a tenth of a percent of the incident X-rays, Saturn or Jupiter might be used as potential remote-sensing tools to monitor X-ray flaring on portions of the hemisphere of the Sun facing away from near-Earth space weather satellites.

Fast Facts for Saturn:
Credit  Chandra X-ray: NASA/MSFC/CXC/A.Bhardwaj et al.; GOES-12 X-ray: NOAA/SEC
Scale  Top panels are 42 arcsec wide.
Category  Solar System
Coordinates (J2000)  RA | Dec
Observation Dates  January 20, 2004
Observation Time  11 hours
Obs. IDs  4466
Color Code  Intensity
Instrument  ACIS
References A. Bhardwaj et al. The Astrophysical Journal, 624:L121-L124, 2005
Distance Estimate  At the time of the observations, about 1.2 billion kilometers (760 million miles)
Release Date  May 25, 2005