Saturn's insides -might be- sloshing around


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One of the wildest aspects of the study is that the findings did not come from measuring the core directly—something we’ve never been able to do. Instead, Mankovich and Fuller turned to seismographic data on Saturn’s rings first collected by NASA’s Cassini mission, which explored the Saturnian system from 2004 to 2017.

“Saturn essentially rings like a bell at all times,” says Mankovich. As the core wobbles, it creates gravitational perturbations that affect the surrounding rings, creating subtle “waves” that can be measured. When the planet’s core was oscillating, Cassini was able to study Saturn’s C ring (the second block of rings from the planet) and measure the small yet consistent gravitational “ringing” caused by the core.

Mankovich and Fuller looked at the data and created a model for Saturn’s structure that would explain these seismographic waves—and the result is a fuzzy interior. “This study is the only direct evidence for a diffuse core structure in a fluid planet to date,” says Mankovich.