Photo credit: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)
Two Caltech astronomers analyzed data from NASA’s Cassini-Huygens data on Saturn’s rippling rings and found new information about its core. Unlike previous theories, Saturn’s core is not a hard ball of rock, but rather a soup of ice, rock, and metallic fluids, referred to as a “fuzzy” core. The core also extends across 60% of the planet’s diameter, making it much larger than previously estimated. Read more for a video and additional information.
Jim Fuller and Christopher Mankovich analyzed the pattern of waves in the rings to build new models of Saturn’s slushy interior. Gravitational waves were observed, indicating that the deep interior consists of stable layers that formed after heavier materials suck to the middle of the planet and stopped mixing with the lighter materials above them.
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We used Saturn’s rings like a giant seismograph to measure oscillations inside the planet. This is the first time we’ve been able to seismically probe the structure of a gas giant planet, and the results were pretty surprising,” said Jim Fuller, co-author and assistant professor of theoretical astrophysics at Caltech.