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Saturn's rings smudged by greased lightning?

Could the smudges that appear in Saturn’s rings be caused by massive lightning strikes? While looking as though a giant finger made the smudging, scientists think it could be lightning or meteor strikes.

An indepth report at Nature Magazine examines the phenomenon of the smudges that appear, and disappear, from the rings of Saturn, in a time frame that can sometimes only be hours.

Nature Magazine reports that the idea was proposed by Geraint Jones of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany.

They say that “If the theory is right, these faint features are the signature of awesome events: lightning strokes ten thousand times more energetic than those on Earth, releasing beams of electrons that surge up from Saturn's surface to whack into the rings and blast out jets of electrically charged dust”.

As for the smudges being the result of meteor strikes, John says that: ""It's implausible that several meteorites would strike the rings in the same place in close succession."

No-one has yet seen the types of storms on Saturn, so the reports are very speculative. But the idea of massive electron beams rising from the planet’s surface is very reminiscent of science fiction novels and would be truly amazing to see.

Unfortunately no-one at NASA or Nature was able to confirm our own off-the-cuff theory that John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John are responsible for generating Saturn’s intriguingly mysterious ‘greased lightning’.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

 

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