Israel solves Saturn mystery

Israeli scientists crack the mystery of Saturn’s day

New research at Tel Aviv University determines that the planet takes seven minutes less than previously thought to complete full turn on its axis.

Ynet News, March 26, 2015

Israeli scientists have solved the mystery of Saturn’s days, determining that one day on the planet lasts 10 hours and a little more than 32 minutes – seven minutes shorter than originally calculated.

The new research at Tel Aviv University was published this week in the Nature journal.

Saturn. New calculations. (Photo: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)
Saturn. New calculations. (Photo: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

The length of a day for most of the planets in the solar system is clear physical data and well-known to modern science. Until now, however, there was no accurate data on how long it took Saturn (or “Shabtai” in Hebrew) to make a full turn on its axis.

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The measurements taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and interpreted in Tel Aviv prove that the length of a day on Saturn is longer than originally calculated from measurements taken by the Voyager 2 probe more than two decades ago.

“While an uncertainty of 15 minutes may appear small compared to the approximately 10.5-hour rotation of Saturn, it is actually important to know (the rotation) accurately,” Ravit Helled, a senior lecturer in plantary sciences at Tel Aviv University, who led the research, told

Cassini in orbit around Saturn (Photo: NASA/JPL/Caltech)
Cassini in orbit around Saturn (Photo: NASA/JPL/Caltech)

“The rotation period has an important effect on understanding Saturn’s atmosphere dynamics and internal structure,” she said in an email. 

Helled, who has been involved in space missions buy NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), including research spacecraft Cassini and Juno, which will reach Jupiter in 2016, says that over the years, scientists have tried to estimate the length of Saturn’s day using different methods, but the results were not uniform.

The gaps in estimates reached up to 15 minutes – a significant time in terms of solar system exploration, and scientific debate continued.

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