Aug 17, 2021 - Science

Saturn's wavy rings

Image of Saturn.

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SScI

Saturn's wiggles create waves in the planet's iconic rings, according to a new study.

Why it matters: The findings could help scientists learn more about the inner workings of Saturn and other worlds like it out there in the galaxy.

Details: The new study in the journal Nature Astronomy suggests movements in Saturn's interior create ripples in its rings that were spotted by scientists during the Cassini mission, which ended in 2017.

  • "We used Saturn's rings like a giant seismograph to measure oscillations inside the planet," Jim Fuller of Caltech, an author of the study, said in a statement. "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."
  • By using those oscillations, the scientists were able to find that Saturn's core may actually be a "fuzzy" soup made of ice, metallic fluids and rock, according to the study.
  • The study also shows the planet's core is larger than expected at 55 times the mass of Earth.

The big picture: NASA's Juno probe at Jupiter has also found some evidence the huge gas giant's core is fuzzy.

  • "The fuzzy cores are like a sludge. The hydrogen and helium gas in the planet gradually mix with more and more ice and rock as you move toward the planet's center," Christopher Mankovich of Caltech, one of the authors of the study, said in the statement.
  • "It's a bit like parts of Earth's oceans where the saltiness increases as you get to deeper and deeper levels, creating a stable configuration."
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