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The particles flowed from the sun during a strong blast of solar wind, then plowed into Saturn‘s magnetic field shortly thereafter. This encounter, which Cassini observed in February 2007, created a shockwave that accelerated the particles to super-high energies, scientists said.
Similar shockwaves commonly form in the aftermath of massive star explosions called supernovas, ramping up nearby particles to nearly the speed of light. Researchers think supernova shockwaves are the primary source of cosmic rays, high-energy particles that pervade our Milky Way galaxy and slam into Earth’s atmosphere continuously.
It can be tough to study distant supernovas and their shockwaves, so Cassini’s observations provide a welcome proxy, scientists said.
“Cassini has essentially given us the capability of…
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