Analysis of a long-lived, two-cell lightning storm on Saturn★
Space Research Institute, Austrian Academy of Sciences,
8042 Graz, Austria
2 Institute of Physics, University of Graz, Universitätsplatz 5, 8010 Graz, Austria
3 LESIA, Observatoire de Paris, CNRS, PSL, UPMC/SU, UPD, 5 Place Jules Janssen, 92195 Meudon, France
4 Commission des observations planétaires, Société Astronomique de France, Paris, France
5 Geological and Planetary Sciences, 150–21, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA
6 Department of Physics and Astronomy, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA
Accepted: 14 November 2018
Lightning storms in Saturn’s atmosphere can last for a few days up to several months. In this paper we analyze a lightning storm that raged for seven and a half months at a planetocentric latitude of 35° south from the end of November 2007 until mid-July 2008. Thunderstorms observed by the Cassini spacecraft before this time were characterized by a single convective storm region of ~2000 km in size, but this storm developed two distinct convective storm cells at the same latitude separated by ~25° in longitude. The second storm cell developed in March 2008, and the entire two-cell convective system was moving with a westward drift velocity of about 0.35 deg per day, which differs from the zonal wind speed. An exhaustive data analysis shows that the storm system produced ~277000 lightning events termed Saturn electrostatic discharges (SEDs) that were detected by Cassini’s Radio and Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) instrument, and they occurred in 439 storm episodes. We analyzed the SED intensity distributions, the SED polarization, the burst rates, and the burst and episode durations.
During this storm Cassini made several orbits around Saturn and observed the SEDs from all local times. A comparison with optical observations shows that SEDs can be detected when the storm is still beyond the visible horizon. We qualitatively describe this so-called over-the-horizon effect which is thought to be due to a temporary trapping of SED radio waves below Saturn’s ionosphere. We also describe the first occurrence of so-called SED pre- and post-episodes, which occur in a limited frequency range around 4 MHz separated from the main episode. Pre- and post-episodes were mostly observed by Cassini located at local noon, and should be a manifestation of an extreme over-the-horizon effect. Combined radio and imaging observations suggest that some decreases in SED activity are caused by splitting of the thunderstorm into a bright cloud and a dark oval.
Key words: planets and satellites: atmospheres / planets and satellites: gaseous planets / methods: data analysis
Table C.1 is only available at the CDS via anonymous ftp to cdsarc.u-strasbg.fr (18.104.22.168) or via http://cdsarc.u-strasbg.fr/viz-bin/qcat?J/A+A/621/A113
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