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Researchers Shed Light On Why Saturn Looks So Young

April 30, 2013
Image Credit: Photos.com

John P. Millis, Ph.D. for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

At the dawn of our Solar System the planets were very hot, as the energy from their creation lingered. But over time the planets would cool, becoming darker, only occasionally paused in this process by large impacts or radioactive decay. At least that is what we would expect.

A mystery that has puzzled scientists for half a century revolves around the appearance of the planet Saturn. The second largest planet in our Solar System is considerably brighter than would be expected, given its age.

New research, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, provides some insight into how the Ringed World remains so youthful. A research team from the University of Exeter and the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon (Ens de Lyon) studied instabilities far beneath the surface of the Jovian world and found the resulting layers of gas prevented heat from escaping to the surface. As a result, less of the planet´s heat escaped into outer space, making the planet appear much younger than it is.

Professor Gilles Chabrier, from Physics & Astronomy at the University of Exeter, commented, “Scientists have been wondering for years if Saturn was using an additional source of energy to look so bright, but instead our calculations show that Saturn appears young because it can´t cool down. Instead of heat being transported throughout the planet by large-scale (convective) motions, as previously thought, it must be partly transferred by diffusion across different layers of gas inside Saturn. These separate layers effectively insulate the planet and prevent heat from radiating out efficiently. This keeps Saturn warm and bright.”

These new studies may have a ripple effect in our understanding of giant worlds like Saturn and Jupiter. Researchers are now examining how these new results could be applied to other objects in our Solar System and beyond. It seems gas giants may be more complicated than once believed.


Source: John P. Millis, Ph.D. for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online



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