Saturn is back in the headlines. And this time, it's not because of NASA's upcoming mission to explore one of the giant planet's moons. A recent study has revealed some surprising facts about Saturn's core. Here's everything we know so far.
So what have we learned now about the ringed beauty in our solar system? Well, it turns out its core is a lot bigger than scientists initially expected: Saturn's core spans roughly 60% of its width! The planet's interior is reportedly made up of rock, ice, and gas, all mixed into a slushy (and big) clump.
"It's huge," remarked California Institute of Technology's Chris Mankovich, a researcher in a new Nature Astronomy paper discussing the planet's make-up. "It's definitely not something we expected to find." In a surprising turn of events, the newly-discovered information might alter some previously-held theories - including how, exactly, Saturn was formed.
"It's just more complex than we thought was going to be the case," explained Sabine Stanley of the Johns Hopkins University. "It's really hard to learn anything about the deepest parts of a planet, especially the giant planets... Any information we can get improves what we knew before." So how did the researchers get the latest scoop on Saturn?
Scientists gathered the new information by studying the planet's rings. These parts of the gas planet function like a seismograph that records Saturn's internal activities. Studying the rings' ripples revealed that the core contains a whopping 17 Earths' worth of material. These revelations, and the materials found in the core, bring to question how the planet grew to such a big size and how it powers its magnetic field.
The size and contents of Saturn's core are far from what researchers expected, leaving us with more questions. "A can of worms with Saturn is explaining the observations with Saturn's magnetic field, which is a fairly bizarre magnetic field for many reasons," Chris Mankovich shared. "This is a non-standard picture for the interior structure of the planet."
Hopefully, further research will soon provide more insight into Saturn's mysterious formation and powers.