University of Houston Discovers Major Energy Imbalance on Saturn That Defies Science! What Are the Effects?

University of Houston Discovers Major Energy Imbalance on Saturn That Defies Science! What Are the Effects?

Energy imbalance on Saturn. Credits: NASA/JPL
Marina Fernandez

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A groundbreaking discovery by researchers at the University of Houston (UH), published in the scientific journal Nature Communications, has revealed a massive energy imbalance on Saturn. Challenging what is known about science and planetary evolution, as well as current climate models for the gas giants of the solar system.

“Not only does this allow us to better understand the formation and evolution of planets, it also changes the way we think about planetary and atmospheric science.

“This is the first time that a global energy imbalance has been observed on a seasonal scale in a gas giant.” “This is a great opportunity for us to explore the possibilities of a new kind of physics,” said Liming Li, professor of physics in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Houston.

Saturn discovery challenges planetary and atmospheric science

Using data from the Cassini mission, Xinyu Wang, a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at NSM, A major, previously unknown seasonal energy imbalance has been discovered on Saturn.

“All planets receive energy from the sun in the form of solar radiation and lose it by emitting thermal radiation,” Wang said. But Saturn, like other gas giants, benefits from another energy input in the form of deep internal heat, which affects its thermal structure and climate.

This anomaly is due to Saturn's large orbital eccentricity, which varies by about 20% between aphelion and perihelion. This is why Saturn's seasons last for several years.

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This defect is due to the large orbital eccentricity of Saturn. Which varies by about 20% between aphelion (the point in the orbit farthest from the Sun) and perihelion (the point in the orbit closest to the Sun), leading to huge seasonal variations in absorbed solar energy.

Our planet Earth, unlike Saturn, does not experience a significant seasonal energy imbalance due to its very low orbital eccentricity.

The Earth has a measurable energy budget, “But it is mainly determined by the solar energy absorbed and the thermal energy emitted,” said Xun Jiang, professor of atmospheric science. “Earth's internal heat is negligible, and its seasons last only a few months, while Saturn's seasons last several years.”

Saturn's giant storms

Data from this recent research also indicate that Saturn's energy imbalance plays a major role in the development of giant storms, It is a prevailing atmospheric phenomenon in the planet's atmospheric system.

This data on Saturn could also provide information about Earth's climate.

As far as we know, The role of the energy budget in the development of moist convective storms on Earth has not been fully studied, “That's why we plan to study this case as well to see if there is a connection,” Wang said.

Re-evaluation of atmospheric models

Cassini mission, It was launched as a result of an ambitious collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency in 1997. It explored Saturn, its rings and moons for nearly 20 years.

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According to a UH statement, Professor Lee has been selected as the co-observation scientist. Three instruments on board monitor Saturn's radiative energy balance.

Simulation of the Cassini spacecraft observing Saturn. Source: NASA/ESA/IAEA
Simulation of the Cassini spacecraft observing Saturn. Source: NASA/ESA/IAEA

Wang, along with fellow graduate students Larry Guan (physics), Thisha D. Karandana G., and Ronald Albright (earth and atmospheric sciences), The study, which was advised by Professors Li and Jiang, was conducted.

In current models and theories of the atmosphere, climate, and evolution of gas giant planets, “The global energy budget is supposed to be balanced,” Wang said.

“But we believe our discovery of this seasonal energy imbalance requires a re-evaluation of these models and theories.”

Lee's team is now interested in other gas giants, including Uranus, A major probe mission is planned for the next decade.

“Our data suggest that these planets will also exhibit significant energy imbalances, In particular, Uranus, which we expect to show the greatest imbalance due to its very high orbital eccentricity and inclination.” Mr. Wang said.

“What we study now will identify limitations on current observations and formulate testable hypotheses that will inform this major future mission.

In addition to researchers at the University of Houston, The study's authors include scientists from NASA, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Maryland, the University of Central Florida, and the University of California, Santa Cruz, as well as scientists from France and Spain.

Article reference:

Wang, X., Li, L., Jiang, X. et al. Cassini spacecraft reveals global energy imbalance on Saturn. Nat Common 155045 (2024). doi: 10.1038/s41467-024-48969-9

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