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There's something happening on Saturn that astronomers have never seen in the solar system

Dmytro IvancheskulLife
Saturn's rings heat up its atmosphere.

After 40 years of observations, scientists have learned that Saturn's rings heat its atmosphere. A veteran astronomer discovered the phenomenon, which had never been observed before in our solar system. He spent a year combining all the data.

Information about the discovery was published in the Planetary Science Journal. The author of the study, Lotfi Ben-Yaffel of the Institute of Astrophysics in Paris, used data from four missions exploring Saturn. The discovery can later be used to search for "exo-rings" in other systems.

"The mystery had been hidden in plain sight for 40 years. But it took the discernment of a veteran astronomer to put it all together," NASA said in a statement about the discovery.

Ben-Yaffel was able to determine that Saturn's enormous ring system is heating up the giant planet's upper atmosphere.

"This phenomenon has never been observed before in the solar system," the scientist said.

He believes the discovery will help make more accurate predictions in the future about whether planets in other star systems have the same ring systems as Saturn.

Speculation about the heating of Saturn's atmosphere dates back to the late 1970s, when an excess of ultraviolet radiation was detected in the atmosphere. It was observed as a spectral line of hot hydrogen.

Traces of hydrogen in Saturn's atmosphere

Initially, this data was rejected because scientists assumed that the radiation was detected in error. Subsequently, when other missions recorded it again, the opinion emerged that some external pollution of the atmosphere was occurring, causing the upper layers of the atmosphere to heat up.

The most likely explanation for the phenomenon was that the heating was caused by ice ring particles precipitating into Saturn's atmosphere. Scientists knew for sure that particles from the rings were falling on the planet, as data from NASA's Cassini probe, which plunged into Saturn's atmosphere at the end of its 2017 mission, confirmed.

"However, we knew nothing about the content (in the atmosphere. - Ed.) of atomic hydrogen," NASA's website quoted Ben-Yaffel as saying.

He suggests that, the composition of the upper atmospheric layers modifies when falling ring particles enter it. In addition, by interacting with atmospheric gases, these particles cause the atmosphere to heat up.

In his study, Ben-Yaffel brought together archival observations of ultraviolet radiation from four space missions that have studied Saturn, as well as data from the Hubble Telescope, which became key.

Information from the telescope made it possible to calibrate the archived data and prove that previous observations were not erroneous.

The astrophysicist said that when everything was calibrated, it was clear that "the spectra were consistent across all missions."

Four decades of observations helped astronomers study the Sun's seasonal influence on Saturn. By putting all of this diverse data together and calibrating it, Ben-Yaffel found that the Sun had no effect on ultraviolet radiation levels.

"At any time, anywhere on the planet, we can observe ultraviolet radiation," he said, noting that this points to the constant "rain of ice" from Saturn's rings as the best explanation.

"One of the goals of this study is to see how we can apply it to planets orbiting other stars. Let's call it the search for 'exo-rings,'" the scientist summarized.

Earlier OBOZREVATEL reported that scientists have found signs of activity on a dead double of the Earth for the first time in history.

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