X-rays from Saturn: a study with XMM-Newton and Chandra over the years 2002–05
Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London,
Holmbury St Mary, Dorking, Surrey RH5 6NT, UK
2 Space Physics Laboratory, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Trivandrum 695022, India
3 NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, NSSTC/XD12, 320 Sparkman Drive, Huntsville, AL 35805, USA
4 XMM-Newton SOC, Apartado 50727, Villafranca, 28080 Madrid, Spain
Accepted: 24 November 2009
Aims. We approach the study of Saturn and its environment in a novel way using X-ray data, by making a systematic and uniform spectral analysis of all the X-ray observations of the planet to date.
Methods. We present the results of the two most recent (2005) XMM-Newton observations of Saturn together with the re-analysis of an earlier (2002) observation from the XMM-Newton archive and of three Chandra observations in 2003 and 2004. While the XMM-Newton telescope resolution does not enable us to resolve spatially the contributions of the planet's disk and rings to the X-ray flux, we can estimate their strengths and their evolution over the years from spectral analysis, and compare them with those observed with Chandra.
Results. The spectrum of the X-ray emission is well fitted by an optically thin coronal model with an average temperature of 0.5 keV. The addition of a fluorescent oxygen emission line at ~0.53 keV improves the fits significantly. In accordance with earlier reports, we interpret the coronal component as emission from the planetary disk, produced by the scattering of solar X-rays in Saturn's upper atmosphere, and the line as originating from the Saturnian rings. The strength of the disk X-ray emission is seen to decrease over the period 2002–2005, following the decay of solar activity towards the current minimum in the solar cycle. By comparing the relative fluxes of the disk X-ray emission and the oxygen line, we suggest that the line strength does not vary over the years in the same fashion as the disk flux. We consider possible alternatives for the origin of the line. The connection between solar activity and the strength of Saturn's disk X-ray emission is investigated and compared with that of Jupiter. We also discuss the apparent lack of X-ray aurorae on Saturn; by comparing the planet's parameters relevant to aurora production with those of Jupiter we conclude that Saturnian X-ray aurorae are likely to have gone undetected because they are below the sensitivity threshold of current Earth-bound observatories. A similar comparison for Uranus and Neptune leads to the same disappointing conclusion, which is likely to hold true also with the planned next generation International X-ray Observatory. The next step in advancing this research can only be realised with in-situ X-ray observations at the planets.
Key words: planets and satellites: individual: Saturn / Sun: X-rays, gamma rays
© ESO, 2010