A radiation belt of energetic protons located between Saturn and its rings

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Abstract

Saturn has a sufficiently strong dipole magnetic field to trap high-energy charged particles and form radiation belts, which have been observed outside its rings. Whether stable radiation belts exist near the planet and inward of the rings was previously unknown. The Cassini spacecraft’s Magnetosphere Imaging Instrument obtained measurements of a radiation belt that lies just above Saturn’s dense atmosphere and is decoupled from the rest of the magnetosphere by the planet’s A- to C-rings. The belt extends across the D-ring and comprises protons produced through cosmic ray albedo neutron decay and multiple charge-exchange reactions. These protons are lost to atmospheric neutrals and D-ring dust. Strong proton depletions that map onto features on the D-ring indicate a highly structured and diverse dust environment near Saturn.

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