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Archive for May 3, 2013

Telling Time On Saturn


Image courtesy of NASA

Image courtesy of NASA

A University of Iowa undergraduate student has discovered that a process occurring in Saturn’s magnetosphere is linked to the planet’s seasons and changes with them, a finding that helps clarify the length of a Saturn day and could alter our understanding of the Earth’s magnetosphere.

Saturn’s magnetosphere is the third largest structure in the solar system, eclipsed only by the magnetic fields of the sun and Jupiter. Unlike Earth, which has a visible rocky surface and rotates once every 24 hours, Saturn is composed mostly of clouds and liquid gas layers, each rotating about the planet at its own rate of speed. This variation in rotation made it difficult for scientists to pin down time for the planet.

Now, using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which entered orbit around Saturn in 2004, UI space physicist Donald Gurnett and other scientists showed that the north and south poles have their own SKR “days” that vary over periods of weeks and years. How these different periods arise and are driven through the magnetosphere has become a central question of the Cassini mission, according to NASA officials.

Full Story: http://now.uiowa.edu/2013/03/telling-time-saturn