Trapped Gas Explains Saturn’s Fresh Face

Article written: 8 May , 2013
Updated: 23 Dec , 2015

The mystery of Saturn’s bright, youthful appearance is a step closer to resolution. And it actually has to do with gas.

Layers of gas within the ringed giant trap heat emanating from the center, preventing the planet from cooling off as it was expected to do as it aged, according to a model developed by a European science team.

“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,” stated Gilles Chabrier, a physics and astronomy professor at the University of Exeter and part of the research team.

“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.”

A raw image of Saturn taken May 4, 2013, as seen through the eyes of the Cassini probe. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

A raw image of Saturn taken May 4, 2013, as seen through the eyes of the Cassini probe. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

You can also see layered convection on Earth, pointed out scientists. In this instances, salty water stays underneath colder and less salty liquid. The salt trap stops water from moving between the layers, also stopping heat from transferring.

The findings were published in Nature Geoscience and included participation from the University of Exeter in England and the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon in France.

Source: University of Exeter

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4 Responses

  1. Member
    Aqua4U says

    I want to see a comet punch a visible hole in Saturn’s rings! or plow a groove? Or maybe get crushed in a close orbital encounter and turn into a new ring? Imagine? Would the hole slowly or rapidly disappear? Would it spread first?

    That dark band in the second image is where we are looking down into Saturn’s atmosphere through a clearing… right?

  2. Member

    Here’s the relevant (PDF) paper:
    Layered convection as the origin of Saturn’s luminosity anomaly.

    In addition, here’s an earlier, related paper (PDF):
    A new vision on giant planet interiors: the impact of double diffusive convection

  3. Funny… trapped gas explains my frowning face.

  4. Spect Tre says

    How the Space Monkeys come up with a single paper and expect that everything in the universe behaves as if….. How dumb monkeys are!!!!!!!!!

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