Saturn's rings are like a seismometer revealing the core of the planet

Saturn’s ice rings aren’t just aesthetic wonders. One of them also records a beautiful planetary soundtrack. The interior of the plane...


Saturn’s ice rings aren’t just aesthetic wonders. One of them also records a beautiful planetary soundtrack.

The interior of the planet, hidden under a shroud composed mainly of hydrogen gas, convulses. This causes changes in the local gravity field, which attracts particles into Saturn’s expansive C-ring and makes them dance. These idiosyncratic caracoles can take the form of spiral waves, and distinct sets of waves reveal the characteristics of particular features of Saturn’s interior.

In other words, Saturn is an orchestra. Different notes appear on the C ring, like those of the sheet music. Scientists can read these notes, hear the music, and identify the instruments and musicians performing, all without ever seeing the orchestra itself.

Using data from the Cassini mission which ended in 2017, scientists have listened to and deconstructed a variety of symphonies in Saturn’s C-ring over the years. Now two researchers from the California Institute of Technology – Christophe Mankovitch, a planetologist, and Jim fuller, a theoretical astrophysicist – have decoded enough of this music to hear the sounds of one of Saturn’s most puzzling features: its nucleus.

According to their article, published Monday in the newspaper Nature astronomy, the nucleus is colossal: it represents 60% of the radius of the planet and represents 55 times the mass of the Earth. And unlike the solid, ordered cluster of metallic, rocky, or icy matter found in other worlds, Saturn’s core is a pandemic amalgam of assorted rocks and ice mingling with a fluid. metallic form of hydrogen. The results bring researchers closer to understanding the birth of Saturn – and other gaseous behemoths like him, including Jupiter.

“It’s a very beautiful story,” said Linda spilker, the project scientist for the Cassini mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who was not involved in the work.

The geological viscera of the Earth, the Moon and (more recently) March have been mapped with seismometers, instruments that record the paths of seismic waves moving through the planet and behaving differently as they pass through mechanically different layers. Saturn, devoid of a solid surface, makes this kind of detective work impossible.

Spacecraft in orbit can roughly map the structure of a gaseous planet’s inner layer cake by detecting subtle changes in gravity. But Saturn’s core has such a weak effect on the planet’s gravitational field that this trick can’t be used to visualize it accurately.

Fortunately, the twinkle of Saturn’s C-ring has revealed what traditional techniques cannot. Above last three decades, scientists have been observe the strange spiral waves of the ring through the images of the Voyager and Cassini missions. And they ultimately reasoned that these spirals are caused by gargantuan oscillations within Saturn.

“These are just constant earthquakes that exist all over the planet,” said Dr Mankovich.

This is a technique known as “kronoseismology”: “kronos” being the Greek word for Saturn, and “seismo” referring to tremors. In 2019, it was used to solve another riddle: How long is a day on Saturn? (About ten and a half hours Earth.)

The nucleus of Saturn is now illuminated. Older models portrayed the planet as if it were a distinctly layered cosmic jawbone candy. Kronoseismology has revealed the messy truth. The core is made up of not only rock and ice, but also fluid metallic hydrogen, which was previously assumed to be a separate layer. There is more rock and ice in its center and more fluid metallic hydrogen on its outer edges – but, everywhere, everything is mixed in a chaotic cocktail. Along with the transient change from fluid hydrogen to gaseous hydrogen above, this article describes Saturn as a large, fuzzy ball.

Despite the technique’s continued success, scientists still don’t know what causes the nucleus to oscillate and create these spiral waves in the C-ring. The Earth rings like a bell when shaken by powerful tectonic jolts. “But Saturn is fluid, so where are the earthquakes? ” request Marc Marley, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona and a pioneer in kronoseismology who was not involved in the work.

The musicians of the orchestra may finally be known, but the hunt for the elusive conductor continues.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Saturn's rings are like a seismometer revealing the core of the planet
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