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Helium Rains in SATURN and JUPITER!!!

Hydrogen and helium are the two lightest and most common elements in the universe. Because of their ubiquitous nature, they are critical in cosmological nucleosynthesis and are essential elements of stars and giant planets. Hydrogen by itself in the observable universe provides clues to the origin and large-scale structures of galaxies.

However, scientists have struggled to determine what conditions are needed for the two elements to mix.

The simulation results are consistent with the idea that a large portion of the interior of Saturn has conditions such that hydrogen and helium phase separate. “This can account for the apparent discrepancy between the current evolutionary models for Saturn and observational data.”

In addition to being made mostly of hydrogen and helium, a characteristic of Jovian planets is that they radiate more energy than they take in from the sun. Various models of their evolution and structure have been developed to describe a relation between the age, volume and mass of the planet and its luminosity.

While this model works for Jupiter by modeling the energy radiation left over from its formation 4.55 billion years ago, it doesn’t exactly work for Saturn. Instead, the model seriously underestimates the current luminosity of Saturn.


So the researchers decided to try something different. They determined where helium and hydrogen mix as well as at what temperature they don’t mix.

It turned out the temperature where the two elements don’t mix is high enough that helium is “partially mixable over a significant fraction of the interior of the Jovian planets with the corresponding region of Saturn being larger than in Jupiter. “This, in fact, could change the current interior models of Saturn and Jupiter.”

January 29, 2009 Posted by | Personal, science | , , , | 20 Comments