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No. 17: Fall 1981

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Saturn Is Still Cooking Away

Observations from the earth and the Pioneeer spacecraft have long puzzled astronomers because they indicate that Saturn is radiating much more internal heat than it should. This anomaly leads to the outrageous possibility that Saturn is actually very young and has not cooled off as much as we would expect from theory.

The infrared detector on the recent Voyager-1 flyby seems to show that the atmosphere of Saturn possesses only about half as much helium as theory would have. The surmise is that the missing helium is still residing in the planet. This might account for some of the abnormal heat generation.

(Anonymous; "Puzzling over Saturn's Internal Heat," Eos, 62:538, 1981.)

Comment. Thus, the excess-heat anomaly may be replaced by the missing-helium anomaly. Curiously, some ancient myths refer to Saturn as the "sun of night." Could Saturn have been much brighter not too long ago?

From Science Frontiers #17, Fall 1981. 1981-2000 William R. Corliss