Next time someone on the road says "hey you, exactly how many days on Saturn?", You don't have to stand there like a fool without an answer.
After decades of never knowing for sure, scientists have succeeded in determining Saturn's day with exactly 10 hours, 33 minutes and 38 seconds, according to a paper published in Astrophysics Journal.
Although some estimates have been offered over the years, it is always difficult to know exactly how long it takes the gas giant to complete full rotation around its axis. And there are several reasons for this.
First, it does not have a solid surface with traces to track when it rotates and secondly, its unusual magnetic field has hidden the rate of rotation of the planet from the researchers.
But when the planet itself fails to give its secret, its trademark ring gives it.
Using data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, the researchers found the ring responded to vibrations inside the planet itself.
Basically, Saturn's ring consists of ice chips and solid stones that respond to vibrations inside the planet similar to how seismometers respond to earthquakes.
"The particles throughout the ring cannot help feeling this oscillation in the field of gravity," Christopher Mankovich, a graduate student in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California who studied wave patterns explained.
"In certain locations in the ring, this oscillation captures ring particles at the right time in their orbit to gradually build up energy, and that energy is carried as observable waves."
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By measuring this wave, Mankovich was able to develop a model of Saturn's internal structure, allowing it to track its movements.
Previous estimates based on radio signals captured by the Voyager spacecraft in the 80s had one day of Saturn at 10 hours, 39 minutes and 23 seconds.
This estimate, however, is based on information about the planet's magnetic field. Unlike Earth and Jupiter for example, Saturn's magnetic axis is almost completely aligned with its rotational axis, making it almost impossible to measure its rotation.
Scientists are happy to finally find the time frame they can rely on.
"The researchers used waves in the ring to peek into the interior of Saturn, and the characteristics of this long-sought planet emerged. And that was a very solid result," Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker said.
"The ring provides the answer."
While one day on Saturn is less than half a day on Earth, one year is equal to 29 Earth years.
The length of the day on each of our planets ranges from only 10 hours on Jupiter, to 5,832 hours on Venus.
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