The samples, published in the journal AGU Advances, also suggest that Saturn’s core may have higher temperatures in the equatorial region, with lower temperatures at high latitudes at the top of the helium rain layer.
It is very difficult to study the internal structures of large gas planets, and the findings advance the effort to map Saturn’s hidden areas.
“By studying how Saturn was formed and how it evolved over time, we can learn a lot about the formation of other planets in our own solar system, as well as beyond saturn,” says Johns Hopkins planetary physicist Sabine Stanley.
Saturn stands out between the planets in our solar system because its magnetic field appears almost perfectly symmetrical around the rotation axis
Detailed measurements of the magnetic field collected from the last orbits of NASA’s cassini mission provide an opportunity to better understand the deep interior of the planet, where the magnetic field is produced, says lead author Chi Yan, johns hopkins Ph.D. candidate.
By feeding the data collected by the Cassini mission into powerful computer simulations used to study the weather and climate, Yan and Stanley explored what materials are needed to produce the dynamo – the electromagnetic conversion mechanism – which could cause Saturn’s magnetic field.
“One of the things we found was how sensitive this pattern is to very specific things, such as temperature,” said Stanley, who is a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and the Space Exploration Sector of the Applied Physics Lab.
“So we have really interesting research about saturn’s deep interior at a depth of 20,000 km. It’s a kind of X-ray vision.” Surprisingly, Yan and Stanley’s simulations suggest that a little inequality may actually be near Saturn’s north and south poles.
“While the observations we have from Saturn may seem completely symmetrical, we can thoroughly interrogate the field in our computer simulations,” Stanley said.
Direct observation is required at the poles, but the findings have implications for understanding another problem that has plagued scientists for decades: how to measure Saturn’s rotating rate, or, in other words, a day’s length on the planet.
The project was conducted using computational resources at the Maryland Advanced Research Computing Center (MARCC)