Something strange happening inside Saturn: Saturn Rings Waves
Published: September 30, 2015
Something strange happening inside Saturn: Saturn Rings Waves, Strange ripples in the rings around Saturn have suggested there may be something moving deep inside the gas giant.
Astronomers have found unusual wave like patterns in the rock and ice that make up Saturn’s rings which appear to be travelling towards the centre of the planet.
Most of these ‘waves’ in Saturn’s rings move outwards as a result of the gravitational pull by the planet’s 62 moons drawing material in the rings towards them.
But planetary scientists say there must be something else within the planet itself causing the patterns in the opposite direction.
They have calculated that one possible explanation may be a disturbance or object far beneath the surface of Saturn spinning so rapidly it makes a full rotation once every seven hours.
It is one of the most beautiful wonders of our solar system, but until recently Saturn’s colourful rings were a violent and dangerous place.
A new study has found one of the rings of dust and debris around the gas giant is much younger than the others.
The ring, which is thought to be formed of ice boulders around 3ft (one metre) wide, appears to have formed within the past 100 million years after one of its moons was pulverised.
Using data collected by Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft, scientists were able to measure the temperature of Saturn’s rings as they passed in and out of the sun’s rays.
To their surprise, the researchers found a large section of the outermost main rings, called the A ring, remained much warmer than expected when it fell into darkness.
Researchers hope that by studying the wave structures in the rings it may be possible to unravel Saturn’s internal structure beneath its dense atmosphere, which is mainly made of hydrogen and helium.
Dr Phillip Nicholson, a planetary scientist at Cornell University in New York who has been leading the analysis, told Space.com: ‘Even dropping a probe into the atmosphere would not necessarily help a lot, because the probe will only get down to a pressure of five or 10 atmospheres before it gets cooked or squashed.
‘We need to go much deeper to understand this.’
They are using data being beamed back by Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft which has been carefully measuring the light passing through each of the rings.
This is allowing scientists to build up a picture of their density and look for subtle changes in the waves, which give clues about the oscillations going on inside Saturn.
Similar techniques are used to study distant stars to understand more about their internal structure.
Dr Nicholson has found that rather than forming a regular pattern of vibrations, the rings around Saturn are uneven, with some patterns appearing multiple times and others missing.
This suggests that the internal structure of the planet is far from uniform.
Jim Fuller, a researcher at the California Institute of Technology, who has also been working on the problem, said there may be a stable layer where the gases that make up Saturn are separated.
He suggests that helium could be separating from hydrogen and then condensing into raindrops that fall deeper through the atmosphere.
This could create a highly concentrated region of helium with a layer of hydrogen above.
Another explaination may be that ice and rock in the core are dissolving upwards into the hydrogen and helium above.
Dr Fuller told Space.com: ‘For the first time, we’re starting to get a glimpse of that interior structure.
‘It’s still pretty primitive, because we can only detect some of Saturn’s operations, but it’s enough to give us some interesting prospects at the very least.’
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