Researchers from the University of Exeter and Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon have discovered the secret behind Saturn’s youthful appearance. Given its age, Saturn should be darker and cooler. However, the sixth planet from the Sun is both bright and hot.
Researchers learned that layers of gas, produced by physical instability deep within the large planet, keep heat from escaping and have prevented Saturn from becoming darker and cooler at the expected rate.
According to Professor Gilles Chabrier from the Physics & Astronomy at the University of Exeter, since the late sixties scientists have pondered whether Saturn was utilizing an extra source of energy to stay so bright but instead his analysis revealed that the planet looks so young because it’s unable to cool down.
Chabrier noted that heat is partly moved by diffusion across varying layers of gas inside Saturn. These gas layers stop heat from “radiating out efficiently,” which means that Saturn stays “warm and bright.”
Saturn is mostly composed of hydrogen and helium and its unique brightness has previously been linked to helium rains.
Layered convection has also been detected in the Earth’s oceans where warm, salty water sits below cool and less salty water. The salty water stops vertical currents from developing between the different layers, preventing heat from being transported efficiently upwards.
The study’s findings are described in detail in the journal Nature Geoscience.