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Spectra of Saturn's proton belts revealed

Abstract : Saturn is permanently surrounded by 6 discrete proton radiation belts that are rigidly separated by the orbits of its inner moons and dense rings. These radiation belts are ideal environments to study the details of radial diffusion and the CRAND source process, yet progress has been hindered by the fact that the energy spectra are not known with certainty: Reanalysis of the response functions of the LEMMS instrument on-board the Cassini orbiter has shown that measurements of ≲ 10 MeV protons may be easily contaminated by ≳ 10 MeV protons and that many available measurements characterize a very broad energy range, so that the calculation of an energy-resolved spectrum is not as straightforward as previously assumed. Here we use forward modeling of the measurements based on the instrument response and combine this technique where useful with numerical modeling of the proton belt physics in order to determine Saturn's spectra with higher certainty. We find significant proton intensities up to ≈ 1 GeV. While earlier studies reported on proton spectra roughly following a power law with exponent ≈ - 2 , our more advanced analysis shows harder spectra with exponent ≈ - 1 . The observed spectra provide independent confirmation that Saturn's proton belts are sourced by CRAND and are consistent with the provided protons being subsequently cooled in the tenuous gas originating from Saturn or Enceladus. The intensities at Saturn are found to be lower than at Jupiter and Earth, which is also consistent with the source of Saturn being exclusively CRAND, while the other planets can draw from additional processes. Our new spectra can be used in the future to further our understanding of Saturn's proton belts and the respective physical processes that occur at other magnetized planets in general. Also, the spectra have applications for several topics of planetary science, such as space weathering of Saturn's moons and rings, and can be useful to constrain properties of the main rings through their production of secondary particles.
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Submitted on : Thursday, May 19, 2022 - 11:37:07 AM
Last modification on : Wednesday, June 1, 2022 - 4:04:47 AM

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Peter Kollmann, Elias Roussos, George Clark, John F. Cooper, Steven J. Sturner, et al.. Spectra of Saturn's proton belts revealed. Icarus, 2022, 376, ⟨10.1016/j.icarus.2021.114795⟩. ⟨insu-03672025⟩

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