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Wed Aug 28, 2019, 02:21 AM

Beneath Saturn's stormy exterior, conductive liquids appear to flow like honey

August 28, 2019

Gas giants like Saturn with their facade of swirling superstorms are brimming with mystery, but intrepid spacecraft like Cassini are beginning to unravel their secrets. The probe burned up like a meteor when it plunged into the planet’s atmosphere two years ago, but not before returning a wealth of information to researchers here on Earth. Scientists studying this data have now constructed a new picture of Saturn’s insides, describing jet streams that continue deep below the surface to meet a viscous liquid that “flows like honey.”

Much like its gassy sibling Jupiter, Saturn experiences ferocious winds, or jet streams, that circle the globe and give it a stripy appearance. Until recently, how deep below the exterior these jet streams continue has been something of an unknown.

In Jupiter’s case, last year the Juno probe studied that planet’s gravitational field to reveal they continue some 3,000 km (1,900 mi) below the surface. Coincidentally, this also happens to be point that the planet’s magnetic field appears to start having a strong effect on the liquids making up its core. This interface between the jet streams and the magnetically influenced gases led some scientists to hypothesize that the magnetic effect could be very the reason the jet streams end where they do.

Analysis of Cassini data earlier in the year unearthed some parallels, finding that Saturn’s jet streams continue to depths of 8,500 km (5,280 mi) before a similar effect suddenly takes hold. Dr Navid Constantinou from Australian National University’s Research School of Earth Sciences has been looking into the reasons why.


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