Variable morphology of Saturn's southern ultraviolet aurora



[1] The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph camera on board Hubble Space Telescope obtained 68 FUV images of Saturn's southern auroral emission between 8 and 30 January 2004, during Cassini's approach to Saturn's magnetosphere. The HST observations took place in four different solar wind regimes with a low-field rarefaction region from 8 to 16 January, a minor compression event on 17 January, a rarefaction region with intermediate field strengths from 19 to 25 January, and a major compression region from 26 to 30 January. The images have been projected onto polar maps in order to characterize and compare the general morphology of the auroral emission. The first 20 images were obtained during a period covering about 70% of one full rotation of Saturn. They show that the bright ring of auroral emission actually consists of several arcs of different width and brightness and forming along different parallels. Overall, the auroral region is shown to rotate at ∼65% of the full planetary rotation, although the angular velocity of some isolated auroral structures constantly decrease with time, down to 20%. The strongest auroral precipitations are observed in the morning sector. The polar projections of the 48 remaining images confirm dramatic changes in morphology, characterized by different average zones. During the campaign, short intervals during which the auroral region is significantly contracted and clearly forms a spiral were followed by intervals of reinflation of the auroral region. It is suggested that the two major auroral contraction events corresponded to the arrival of the solar wind shocks observed by Cassini on 17 January and 25 January. The present analysis indicates that Saturn's auroral morphology responds to the solar wind conditions at Saturn.