How Do Astronomers Think Saturn Generates its Internal Heat
Saturn internal heat Saturn’s internal heat has been puzzling astronomers since its discovery in the 18th century.
Due to fundamental physics, anything with the tiniest bit of mass, including planets, will always emit thermal energy, which is also called thermal radiation.
However, models predicted that Saturn’s internal heat should have vanished eons ago. Instead, interior radio waves detected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft revealed that Saturn is still very warm.
This indicates that there must be an unknown source of energy inside the planet keeping it hot. This shared chemical energy source could either be extra radioactive elements or ancient uranium isotope decay products inherited from forming so early in our Solar System’s history.
Saturn may potentially have an internal heat source that’s fueling it. Scientists believe that Saturn’s interior could be generating 1,100 to 1,250 watts per square meter because the planet does not emit as much thermal energy as other planets like earth or Jupiter. It was hypothesized that there might be a rocky core with a high radioactive content is the source of Saturn’s internal heat.
Interior Structure of Saturn
Saturn’s core may be a solid mass of iron and nickel. This core may be 100–200 kilometers in diameter. The iron-nickel core could be surrounded by a rocky mantle. However, the density of the rocky mantle is very low and it could be covered with an icy shell. The icy shell could be 10 to 15 kilometers thick.
There are two reasons why Saturn’s core could be solid. The first is the age of Saturn.
- It is estimated that Saturn is about 4.6 billion years old.
2. This is based on the rate at which radioactive elements decay and the time since Saturn’s formation.
Because it is the second oldest planet in our solar system, it is unlikely that Saturn’s core is a molten ball. This means that the radioactive elements that Saturn inherited from forming in the protoplanetary disk could be the source of Saturn’s internal heat.
However, because the density of Saturn’s core is higher than Earth’s core, the solid core may not be able to support the rest of the planet. If the core collapses, the outer part of the planet may sink to the core and form a ring around the core.
If Saturn’s core is solid, there should be an inner and outer boundary. The inner boundary could be at a depth of 10 to 20 kilometers.
The outer boundary could be at a depth of 80 to 100 kilometers. The outer boundary may contain liquid rock.
The outer boundary of Saturn’s core may be a liquid boundary.
There are four possible scenarios for Saturn’s interior.
- A solid core surrounded by an icy shell.
2. A solid core surrounded by a liquid core.
3. A liquid core surrounded by an icy shell.
4. A liquid core surrounded by a liquid boundary.
Saturn’s core could be a solid core surrounded by an icy shell. This is the most likely scenario.
How Saturn Generates its Internal Heat
Radioactive elements are likely to be the source of Saturn’s internal heat.
The radioactive elements in Saturn’s core are very old and could have provided enough energy to keep Saturn warm. The alternative source of energy for Saturn is the inheritance of Uranium-238 and Uranium-235 from forming Saturn.
Uranium is a radioactive element that decays into lead-206 and lead-207.
Uranium-238 has a half-life of 4.5 billion years and Uranium-235 has a half-life of 704 million years. If Uranium-238 is in Saturn’s core, then the Uranium-235 would be left in the crust.
Saturn’s core could be solid. Uranium-238 is in the core and Uranium-235 is in the crust. If Uranium-238 is in Saturn’s core, then the Uranium-235 could be the source of Saturn’s internal heat.
Uranium-235 has a higher decay energy than Uranium-238.
It is the higher decay energy that makes Uranium-235 the source of Saturn’s internal heat. However, Uranium-235 would be concentrated in the core and would not be available to be inherited from Saturn’s formation.
The inner boundary of Saturn’s core could be at a depth of 10 to 20 kilometers.
If the Uranium-235 is concentrated in the core, the outer boundary of Saturn’s core could be a liquid boundary. If Uranium-235 is in Saturn’s core, then the outer boundary of Saturn’s core could be a liquid boundary.