The Plasma Environment at Saturn: Progress and Problems

  1. J. H. Waite Jr.,
  2. J. L. Burch and
  3. R. L. Moore
  1. John D. Richardson

Published Online: 18 MAR 2013

DOI: 10.1029/GM054p0105

Solar System Plasma Physics

Solar System Plasma Physics

How to Cite

Richardson, J. D. (1989) The Plasma Environment at Saturn: Progress and Problems, in Solar System Plasma Physics (eds J. H. Waite, J. L. Burch and R. L. Moore), American Geophysical Union, Washington, D. C.. doi: 10.1029/GM054p0105

Author Information

  1. Center for Space Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 18 MAR 2013
  2. Published Print: 1 JAN 1989

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780875900742

Online ISBN: 9781118664315



  • Space plasmas;
  • Sun;
  • Magnetosphere;
  • Astrophysics


Although much progress has been made toward understanding the plasma environment near Saturn, many questions remain. This paper reviews the current state of observations and theory in Saturn's magnetosphere and highlights remaining problems. Observations and modeling give a consistent picture of the inner magnetosphere in which an anisotropic plasma is tightly confined near the equatorial plane. The primary heavy ion source is sputtered neutrals from the water ice surfaces of the Saturnian satellites, which yield a plasma with approximately equal densities of atomic and molecular ions. The plasma density is limited by recombination and charge exchange loss inside L = 8, whereas transport loss dominates outside this. A model of the plasma distribution in the region inside 12 Saturn radii (Rs ) is used to produce contour plots of plasma density which are consistent with plasma observations from both the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft. The magnetosphere is more dynamic outside 12 Rs , with blobs of hot plasma interspersed with outward moving cold plasma. The dynamics, composition, and source of this hot plasma are not well understood. The Cassini mission, tentatively scheduled for launch in the mid-1990's, should resolve many of the outstanding issues.